AFL Round 1 – North Melbourne v Essendon: Let down

2013 was a horrible season to experience as a North Melbourne fan. The Roos were so good, yet so bad at critical times. However, many pundits have tipped them to improve in 2014, with some even suggesting a push into the top four, and even a spot in the Grand Final (thanks KB). I’ve been riding this wave of enthusiasm and potential all summer, and finally, after the boring NAB Challenge scheme is over, and the first half of the opening round is done with, it’s time for the blue and white to hit centre stage. Round 1. Friday night. Essendon v North Melbourne. Two classic rivals. We hate them, and they pretend that they don’t care about us.
But they do.
I spend the day working on an assignment for my journalism class at Uni. After four hours of trying to get my head around referencing every single thing, I feel like taking a nap. But a footy match I must attend. There’s a sprinkling of North Melbourne supporters on the Glen Waverley train, with a pinch of red and black. I gaze at the MCG as we pass through Richmond. I used to cherish every single second I got when I would be visiting Melbourne and would be fortunate enough to see the ‘G. Now, I see it once or twice a week. I still cherish those seconds. It doesn’t lose its novelty. I allow my mind to think wicked thoughts, of a barnstorming year for the Roos and a Grand Final finish, of what it would be like to cheer on from the stands among 100,000 people. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. We reach Flinders Street Station, where the footy goers must leave the train and catch another to continue on to Southern Cross. I follow a young North Melbourne couple, thinking they know where they’re going. Nope. I decide after 10 minutes to try on my own, and after helping a little boy find his dad who had wandered off on him (or vice versa), finally find a train that will see me through to Etihad Stadium. It’s cold and windy. Perfect footy conditions, albeit under the roof. Entering the stadium, I discover that I am on the exact opposite part of the ground to where my seat is, of course. I reach aisle 27 after a short walk, and walk to row B. Forward pocket next to the North cheersquad, can’t get any better than this. That is, until a rather large man sits directly in front, and hangs forward over the railing as if he wants to fall asleep. He would put any plumber to shame. He awakens, and starts to call all of his mates, telling them how he scored some ‘wicked as seats’. An older, much more tolerable North family soon arrive at their designated area, tell him to get lost, and I can enjoy my view again.
I can’t stop my leg shaking. It happens when i’m nervous. The time ticks by so slowly. Why did I get here so early? The teams come out for their warm-up, with Essendon choosing to have a kick around in front of us, the North faithful. An annoying young Essendon fan runs to the fence, shouting to all of his heroes, as if he expects them to turn around and acknowledge him.
Finally, the teams start to come onto the ground. Blue flames shoot into the air as the North Melbourne boys run out, and I can feel the heat from them 40 metres away. Dustin Fletcher leads the Bombers out, and I, along with many others around me, can’t resist applauding a modern-day marvel. The umpire holds the ball in the air, the entire arena cheers, and then silence. The season is on for these two teams. Essendon start well, controlling possession and keeping it inside 50. Luke McDonald, in his first game but already looking like he belongs at an AFL level, makes a terrible mistake by passing straight to Paul Chapman, who kicks a goal. Chapman looks strange in red and black. He’s still one of the best players in the game though, kicking another early goal, with the Bombers booting four straight to nothing. A spectacular mark and goal to Lindsay Thomas late in the quarter sparks the Roos, with new recruit Nick Dal Santo also threading a beauty.
Aaron Black starts the second quarter off with a great snap goal, before Thomas drags in another beauty of a mark (right in front of me). He goals, and suddenly we’re in front. What happens after this is one of the most uninspiring games of footy i’ve ever seen North play, missing targets, not taking the game on, failing to take opportunities, and just playing dumb football. Essendon kick three majors to finish the half, with Chapman dangerous again. McDonald keeps getting stuck on him, which Chappy would obviously love. Lindsay kicks his third after the half time break, but Brendon Goddard starts to have an impact. Jobe Watson is finding plenty of the ball and even goes forward to kick a major. Thomas again puts his hand up, kicking a contender for Goal of the Round tight on the boundary line from 45 metres. Down by 21 at three quarter time, I pray for a comeback win, but I know that it won’t come. We’ve just been far too sloppy. Joe Daniher clunks another big mark. I scoffed at an Essendon supporter recently who suggested Daniher could kick 50 goals this year. I don’t think that’ll happen, but booting 30 or even 40 is not beyond him. The kid has serious talent. Chapman kicks a fourth while all alone in the forward line, Goddard adds another, and I decide enough’s enough, I’m out of here.
Normally, I wouldn’t leave a game early. I haven’t had to, having seen North 23 times live for 23 wins since 2010. I’m not used to seeing them lose. With trips to Melbourne for the footy usually few and far between, I reason to myself that i’ll be here next week, and the week after, so why not get a headstart on getting home. The concourse is full of North Melbourne supporters, shaking bowed heads, kicking cans along the ground. I hate Essendon. I hate seeing them win, and to be frank, I have loved the whole ASADA investigation, as much as it has ruined the integrity of the sport. But this is just a blip on the radar. The North balloon has been deflated, which is probably a good thing. Time to get back to the basics, starting with the Bulldogs next week. I get home by 11:30. Normally, I wouldn’t get back to Waaia by two in the morning. Life’s different now.

North Melbourne 3.0 – 5.3 – 8.5 – 9.6.60
Essendon 4.1 – 8.5 – 11.8 – 15.9.99


North Melbourne: Thomas 4, Dal Santo, Black, Harvey, Wright, McKenzie

Essendon: Chapman 4, Goddard 3, Hardingham 2, Watson 2, Daniher 2, Howlett, Ryder


North Melbourne: Thomas, Dal Santo, Adams, Cunnington

Essendon: Watson, Goddard, Chapman, Hooker, J Merrett, Fletcher, Zaharakis, Hocking

Crowd: 42,332 at Etihad Stadium

3: Jobe Watson (E)
2: Brendon Goddard (E)
1: Paul Chapman (E)

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.


  1. I tipped and barracked fervently for your Roos last night Josh, given that they were playing the hated Flying Peptides. What the???
    My take on North had always been that your smalls were good but you lacked decent talls. Last night I got it half right.
    Your smalls all played like they were constipated. There was none of the ‘run and gun’ razzle dazzle that at least made you dangerous last year.
    Maybe Chris needs an Assistant Coach down at Sleepy Hollow??
    As for Chappy – he looks to have shed 5kg. Fitness or the jumper???
    As I know, block colours are much kinder than hoops for men of a certain age.
    Smart move all round.
    Do you think that lost couple at the train station were trying to tell you something?
    Beware the Ides of March.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Well written Josh. I feel your pain and expectation at the start of the season. Damn those pundits who seem to know all about football like David King in the Foxfooty war-room and pick your team to be in the top four! No wonder your leg was shaking.
    Only about four years ago they were saying it was going to be the Bulldogs to finally win the big one.
    Right now I feel better that the Bulldogs are considered to be about three years away from contesting a GF. The pressure is off slightly even if the expectation remains high.
    So the pleasure comes from occasionally beating the more fancied teams and watching the young players thrive after a couple of years in the system.
    Without going all ‘Danny from Droop Street’, I don’t no how we will combat the four giants in Perth tomorrow, but Ive picked the Bulldogs anyway hoping the Dogs will do a GWS.
    And then, like Danny, I’ll start worrying about facing the Roos on the rebound next week.

  3. Nice assessment of the game, Josh. And that’s from an Essendon devotee still bruised (actually, still bruising; present tense) from the supplement saga. The lack of accountability from North surprised me; I’d honestly been bemused by the hype around North this season. Someone in their PR department had done an amazing job over summer but the players may have started to believe it.
    The rivalry North have with Essendon has always astounded me and it seems even their supporters raised in Waaia suffer the burden! My theory has always been that it is a remnant of North’s takeover of the old Essendon Town VFA team; deep down, North tried to improve their DNA and mistakenly chose the runt of the litter.

  4. John Butler says

    Hope the Big Smoke is treating you well Josh.

    I fear your Roos may have a challenging season ahead. I think the hype on them has been overblown. Not something they necessarily control, but the way the footy circus works now it will be something they’ll have to deal with.

    But then, most of my recent predictions haven’t been too flash, so don’t pay me much heed. :)

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Disappointing night, Josh. Head up.

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