By Darren Dawson
North lost by three points on Saturday night. Yes, it would have been wonderful to win the shoot-out at Etihad. But I came away from the game feeling a sense of relief, and not disappointment, that the Kangaroos were now unlikely to be fronting up in the finals. I have long been a believer that scraping into the final eight – and indeed any finals system which ensures that at least half the teams in the competition qualify for post regular-season action – can cause more harm than good in the longer term. Certainly, North Melbourne’s finals performances in the Dean Laidley era are a case in point.
I am sure that every player at Arden St would disagree, but I just cannot help feeling that squeezing into the eight and then getting smashed by either a Dockers outfit on home soil or seasoned finals campaigner Hawthorn at the ‘G would be detrimental to the development of the younger Roos. Sure, there is always the chance that we could pull off a victory against the odds, but it is unlikely. I listened with interest to various Melbourne players who, in the wake of their destruction of the Swans, waxed lyrical about the mathematical chances of the Demons finishing in the eight. I wonder if Dean Bailey, in his heart of hearts, is as enthusiastic about seeing September action this year? For teams with such young midfields as the Demons and Roos, the season is a long and arduous trek. The finals are another step again. Just ask Essendon. Matthew Knights was lauded for taking the Bombers to the finals last season, but has that pummelling they then received had an effect on their performance this year?
I have been re-energised by the glimpses of the future that the Kangaroos have brought to me this season, but remain fearful that a premature finals ejection would do more harm than good. Finishing a competitive ninth or tenth (which would yet be a remarkable effort given the Kangas’ run home), would to me, offer more promise of further improvement than being sent packing in week one of September.