AFL Round 19 – North Melbourne v Geelong: Back in Town

By Rob Chanter

The last time these two teams played, I watched it in a dark basement in Toronto in the wee small hours, hunched over a laptop with the speakers at sotto voce, for fear of waking the Blushing Bride. A distinctly solitary endeavour, with just a tumbler of rye for company. North, despite playing some scintillating footy for a half, couldn’t manage to hold out the tougher, more experienced Cats when it mattered. Little did I suspect at the time how much this would set the tone for a frustrating and somewhat bizarre season for the Roos.

This week is our first game back since returning to Melbourne. More hopeful than confident, The Boy and I hop on the train at Westgarth in plenty of time to get to the ground. A workmate has been kind enough to get us passes to one of the Level 1 North End bays rather than our usual level 3 tickets, and we wind up in the first row behind the goals, next to the cheer squad.

Both teams go in with important players missing: Geelong are missing Podsiadly and  Simpson, while North are going to have to find out what life is like without Andrew Swallow for the rest of this year and possibly into next. Who has better depth: North’s mids or Geelong’s forwards?

Geelong get away early. While North’s endeavour looks fine, a couple of lapses let Motlop out the back for two goals. The Roos hang in though with determined, patient footy, and Wells matches Motlop with two of his own. Even more encouraging, they kick the last 3 of the quarter, including a ripper from Mullet, gathering a half-volley and turning onto his left from the 50. Red time goals were the bane of North’s first couple of months, but they seem to have made progress in controlling the late parts of quarters. 8 points up at quarter time, and The Boy’s considered summary is “Gee Dad, Tom Hawkins has really nice hair”.

The second opens up a bit more. Geelong kick 3 of the first 4 and start looking in control, but the Kangas regroup and bang on the next 5, highlights being Ben Jacobs’ snap out of congestion from 45, and an end-to-end goal that Boomer sets up for Petrie. Boomer is everywhere, Wells is scything through contests, and Jacobs is busy and committed. Geelong gets one late, but North manage to hold up their efforts to turn it into 2 or 3.

I wouldn’t choose it every week, but the intimacy of front row seats is a stark contrast to the televised game, and even the 2nd and 3rd decks. The bash and crash of the contest, the trajectory of incoming kicks, the choreography of the leading patterns and the way space is created and filled all make much more sense from this angle. You can see Hansen working loose and clogging up Geelong’s forward line, Atley’s dash away from contests, and North’s 3 talls working to create leading space. It looks to me like Hansen’s move back has been a big reason why North’s defence is improved in the last month or two. With his size, endurance and reading of the play he’s a tricky matchup as a loose defender — a different proposition to the midsized running-kicking halfbacks like Birchall, Hartlett or Trent McKenzie.

Half time. Up by 20. The mood at the North end is subdued. They’ve been here too often this season to be confident, and the 3rd quarter seems to confirm their fears. After a tense 10 minutes the Cats get 3 in a row to get within 2 points. But they haven’t really poured them on, and in the last minute Adams converts a set shot to get back to 8 points. I’m clearly not as scarred as those who have been here every week, and unreasonably confident: they’ve run out all 3 quarters and I assure my companions it’s different this time. They just look determined not to let it slip.

The Boy’s had enough. Our winter coats are still on a boat somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and he’s cold and exhausted. We head out for a hot jam donut and the train, and back to once more following the game on a tiny screen. I can’t get the audio to work on the phone app, so we make do with the score worm and text commentary. When North get the first two of the last quarter, I feel like it’ll be enough. And so it is. Some reward for effort, as Brad Scott likes to say, and some real progress to give us hope that this group of players is going to be OK. Go Roos!


NORTH MELBOURNE 4.3  10.4  12.5  15.6 (96)

GEELONG       3.1  7.2  11.3  13.8 (86)



North Melb: D Wells 4 R Bastinac 3 L Adams 2 A Mullett B Jacobs D Petrie J Ziebell L Hansen L Thomas.

Geelong: S Motlop 3 M Duncan 2 N Vardy 2 B Smedts H Taylor M Stokes S Johnson T Hawkins T Varcoe.



North Melb: B Harvey, D Wells, J Ziebell, T Goldstein, L Hansen, A Mullet, S Atley

Geelong: S Motlop, J Selwood, J Bartel, M Stokes


Umpires: Matt Stevic, Stephen McBurney, Jeff Dalgleish.


Crowd: 33,584

Our Votes: B Harvey 3, D Wells 2, S Motlop 1


  1. Can someone please explain to me why the Roos aren’t in the 8?

  2. Asked and answered, Dips :-).

    Not smart enough at key times. Not battle-hardened enough. Not lucky enough. JTH reckons they are being overcoached and not playing instinctively enough. I reckon he has a point, but that might still be a big ask for a list where most of the best/most talented players are still only 21-22. Only Boomer has played in a genuine top 4 side (2007 doesn’t count).

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