AFL Round 16 – Brisbane Lions v North Melbourne: W(h)ither North?

North Melbourne’s old-fashioned pantsing of Richmond last week certainly produced some quick, chest-thumping reactions from the Kangaroo faithful.

But sometimes the significance of games takes more than 24 hours to emerge.

With the wisdom of a week’s hindsight, if I was a North supporter I’d be rating the game as the most disappointing of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. It was the most complete, relentless team performance I’ve seen this year.  But I had my suspicions.  The Tigers had a stinker while the Roos’ mercurial play and “out of your arse” goals screamed “some days are diamonds”.

I need no convincing about North’s talent.  But I was intrigued about their next game (Brisbane at the Gabba) to learn more about their backbone.

Sadly, Saturday’s fadeout against a competent but not outstanding team was the fourth time this year that North coughed up a five goal-plus lead to lose.  They’ve lost a further swag of close games this year.  Mathematically they could still play finals.  Realistically, they’re cooked for 2013.

So, North fans, from one who knows all manifestations of false dawns, downhill skiers and the myriad disappointments they bring, and at the risk of being tagged a person in a glass house, I’m intrigued to know what do you make of your team?  Why is a lineup capable of so much delivering so rarely? And, looking at the bigger picture, what realistically are the prospects of a small, struggling club if it cannot galvanise its current crop of talent?

As an outsider, a few observations spring to mind that might focus attention.  They may be harsh but rest assured there’s nothing in here that I haven’t pondered about my own team at some stage over the last 30 miserable years:

1.On the strength of last week’s display, North’s future looks bright. There’s a strong even list of quality young players who demonstrated an intensity that I haven’t witnessed from any team I’ve watched this year. However, much the same observations were made about Richmond when they monstered Hawthorn by 10 goals last year. I know from bitter experience how easy it is to get carried away by one spectacular performance. Truth is, Richmond hasn’t held any fears for North for three decades. They approach any game against the Tigers expecting a win. In that context, last week’s result merely confirms the “flat track bully” tag that plenty have applied to the Kangaroos for several years. It doesn’t cancel out the litany of recent finals thrashings. It doesn’t ameliorate the shocking fade outs of earlier in the year, or indeed the listless follow-up effort against Brisbane.

2. What was so remarkable about last week’s win over Richmond was that it was a genuine team performance.  Which was glaringly not backed up.  For all the “Shinboner Spirit” rhetoric about hard work, courage in adversity and team before self, dare I suggest that the dominant ethos at North Melbourne is the cult of the individual?  North’s two Premiership eras were based around great individuals (i.e. Barassi and Carey) and both quickly faded when these individuals moved on.  More recently, North’s greatest performances have revolved around individual milestones and achievements (Archer, Harvey etc).  Interestingly, discussions on this site about last week’s performance nostalgically recalled the Jason McCartney game and the inspiration that his battle against personal adversity provided the team (which as I recall scrounged a 3 point victory over a side that managed just 7 wins for the year.)  It was indeed a great Hollywood moment, but best sporting contest witnessed? Seriously?

3.  In political terms, playing Carlton, Collingwood or Essendon is like the big stage of Question Time. Whether they’re going well or not, it’s all rowdy theatre and the pressure of being in the spotlight.  Playing North is like a Senate Estimates Hearing. You know you’re in for a forensic grilling that will expose any lack of integrity.  But it’s low-key, back-room stuff.  Is that enough in a competition where Premierships and memberships are the only real currency? And when the intensity of the scrutiny drops off, what’s left?

4.  With its constant experimentations with interstate games, potential mergers and jumper changes compromising what little identity it has, is North really doing itself any favours? What does North Melboune really stand for? What would convince an unaffiliated AFL follower to support them?

5. If the AFL had pursued a more forceful agenda for rationalising the competition, North could easily have been merged, relocated or gone out of existence several times over. But here we are in 2013 and like Billy Connolly’s  “wee beige jobbie”, they’re still hanging around, drawing occasional big crowds vicariously when they play big clubs, but embarrassing themselves and the competition with pitiful roll ups at lesser games such as the GWS?  Has the time come for a long-term change?

So, are these just ravings from someone still getting over a 10 goal mauling?  Or, in the words of one of North’s finest, “you know it makes sense”?

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. Stainless, lovely cold dish of revenge there. I tipped 9 last weekend – the first time in years. I chose Brisbane because I knew North had more skill, the Lions had more heart. If it was close in the final quarter, the Lions would dig deep. I checked the half time score and wasn’t worried. When I checked the final score, I wasn’t surprised.

    North’s problems would take a supercoach to fix, and you can’t putt Scott in that category.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    we no longer choke, we simply roll over.

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Sam, have just part of your piece.

    Jason Mccartney’s final match was the best thing I’ve seen in sport because it meant so much more than just a simple game of footy.

    I’m as critical of North as anyone. I have a right to be, I go every week if possible. For all our faults, we are a club built on honesty and integrity. And one that has never bottomed out, like some. And aside from Port we are the only small club to wind a flag in recent decades.

    Unlike some other underperforming, yet apparently bigger clubs, we strive on every year against unfair and biased fixturing. There are no ‘traditional season openers’ at the G for North. My whole extended family are club members, but I am the only one who goes regularly because of the SUnday night scheduling. 5 of our first 10 in 2013. The AFL wouldn’t dare ask Cwood, Rich, ESS etc to play Sunday nights.

    Fighting against corrupted AFL priorities year after year is very tiring.

    The AFL has been propping Rich up for decades with favourable fixtures and still the club hasn’t been able to grow a half decent culture.

  4. Paul Young says

    +1, What Andrew Starkie said.

  5. AS, I didn’t realise how awful those Sunday twilight fixtures are for families (in particular) until mine grew up a little. The Cats rarely play in this timeslot but it affects dinner time at home, let alone the palava of having to get out and back in time for Sunday night family time. Shocking time and I agree, not helpful for attendances.

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