AFL Round 6 – North v Port (preview): Embrace the Chaos


I am hearing a lot about North Melbourne being a side in form, and being a little stiff against the better sides.

They should have beaten Geelong and they probably should have beaten Hawthorn. But they didn’t. And the reason: they are not in form.

Exhibit A: Decision-making.

On TV we see teams win the contested ball. That’s the common camera shot. All teams win their share of the footy. What we don’t see on TV is the expanse of opportunity sides have once they get out, get clear. When you’re at the ground you see North butcher opportunity after opportunity. Even on TV v Hawthorn you could see option after option ignored. (Richmond also do it).

Exhibit B: Skills

North is a very skilful side – when free of physical pressure, or free of the pressure of mental expectation of a winning performance. However, their skills go missing at times. They need to toughen up.


Exhibit C: Authority

The good teams have players who exude belief and commitment and, hence, authority. The Hawks machine of the 80s had uber-authority.

What a North Melbourne disaster the final seconds of Sunday’s match were. Petrie (fine player, fine skills, takes responsibility, but serial offender) had the footy 75 metres out. Everyone was flocking back. Hawthorn’s panic was palpable. Not one North player thought to button-hole and turn back and lead on the 45. There was space, space, space (there were actually two fat sides, because everyone was running straight down the middle) and North have a stack of players with the acceleration to do it. They’d have had a set shot from 35 for the game.

North play dumb footy sometimes.


Problem: Coaching

North are over-coached by a bloke who has all the ability in the world but is fearful. North have belief when they can implement their practised regimented strategies. They spread Geelong’s zone brilliantly in the first half and picked the Cats off with pure skill. If a zone is like a molecule, they forced distance between atoms. Whether it was intentional or not they also found the weak part of the zone and attacked through the part of the ground where young Blicavs was stationed, and also through Mitch Brown. The Cats had no answer. However, when it was harder to play structured, controlled, pre-ordained, over-planned footy (because Geelong took the game on and created a new culture in the game and because tiredness became a factor) North struggled.

They shouldn’t struggle in that situation. They have the players to thrive in that situation.


Solution: Free them up and give them confidence.

Easy to say. Confidence will grow with some wins. At the moment there is a culture of doubt.

Here’s one thing I would do though. Fast-break practice.

In basketball, teams practise the three on two, or three on one, fast break. So that when there is a turnover in a game situation the scoring of the basket is automatic, second nature. It just happens.

North are driving me nuts with their inability to take advantage of turnovers. They win the footy. They get out. They muck it up. They should be able to score Under 12 goals like Geelong do. With someone giving Chelsea a peck on the cheek before dribbling the footy through.

Geelong’s squad allowed them to play attacking footy which made the footy ground look big again. North have a side of similar skill-sets.


I have seen quite a few non-Geelong games this season, a few of them live at the ground. Of the teams I have seen I would say North are better than Richmond (by a good margin),North are better than Collingwood, North are better than Carlton. At their best they can win any match.



Their opponent this week: Port Adelaide

Ken Hinkley is not a KPI sort of bloke. Playing as a skinny half-back flanker who probably had the high-score on the pinball machine at his local fish’n’chips joint in Geelong, he read the game and trusted his skills.

Mark Williams was not a natural KPI man either.

Port has not been a KPI team over time – have a look at the `04 flag side.

It looks like K. Hinkley has encouraged his young men to Embrace the Chaos. To play the game.

This has been great for his young charges.

They can beat North if North turn up wondering whether they’ve done their homework and can keep their gruff coach happy.


Final observation:

In this life it is folly to believe you can control things. People concerned for their lot try and prove that they are in control.

Chill out B. Scott. Get some perspective.

Freedom reigns.

If the opening five rounds have shown anything, they’ve shown this is a game of the spirit.




About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH – very insightful. I also reckon Buckley is too pent up. The Pies are in danger of being coached into mediocrity.

    I like B Scott. He probably needs a string of 3 or 4 wins and he will loosen up.

    Maybe C Scott should take him out on the turps.

  2. Andrew Fithall says


    I think you need to get back into a regular workplace. Giving Chelsea a peck on the cheek on the way through is going to land the player in question in court for sexual harassment and the AFL and North Melbourne FC both subject to suits for vicarious liability.


  3. AF

    Metaphoric of course. I was trying to think what the goal-kicker might do to use up a couple of seconds.

  4. Dear Dr Harms,
    Your diagnostic skills are formidable. Are you Greg House MD down under? Is that a bottle of vicodin rattling in your pocket.
    Please help me House. I have put the boys through the CAT scan, PET scan and NMRI. Last year’s baseline results said they were slow, poorly skilled and ferocious. Somehow this was nearly Top 4 material.
    This year’s results say slower, worse skilled and oppositions go through our defensive zone like a Mumbai vindaloo.
    What is causing these symptoms? What was the vector of transmission for these ailments? Is there any hope of recovery or do I just have to hope that their NDIS payments free up a bit of salary cap?
    Yours hopefully,
    Ailing Accipitridae (you can call me AA) of Albany

  5. Only have views on stripes and hoops.

  6. I see you are abiding by the Hypocritic Oath as usual.
    Curse you House.
    I will dob The Handicapper into the Medical Board for refusing aid to the terminally ill.

  7. Andrew Starkie says


    K Hinkley is a Camperdown boy. The Magpies in the Hampden League. Started at Fitzroy, where he lasted a season or two and played one memorable game at the WACA on a Friday night against the Eagles kicking 6 very opportunist goals on a very wide flank. He escaped mid-season back to the bush saying he didn’t like city life. Really, he was too light, too small and a bit windy. A year or so later, Blighty got him to Sleepy Hollow and played him in defence, told him to play in front and keep his eyes on the ball. Turned him into a star with flair and confidence and amazing composure. A couple of grand finals and Big V rep. North should do the same with Tarrant and Melbourne with Watts.

    He coached Camperdown to a few flags before returning to the big time as an assistant. Apparently he applied for every coaching job going but only Port went with him. I reckon a few clubs would be kicking themselves.

    I’m relieved to read your piece. I’m tired of people saying ‘Shit, North are stiff’. They aren’t unlucky. They aren’t good enough. I see them every week, every year. I agree with parts of what you say: North are making poor decisions, often due to lack of composure and hesitancy. They flew out of defence on Sunday night time and time again but got to CHF and stopped or went wide; lack belief. I told you at half-time against the Cats we were far from home and would get shaky; have poor skills under pressure and Drew is a serial offender. He was never going to kick that goal late in the final term. He has always been a confidence player.

    I think last year’s final knocked the wind out of them. And if you want we can go back to the end of the Pagan era. We fell away too quickly and didn’t rebuild adequately after our champions departed. A bit similar to the Australian cricket team. Sort of. How can you replace Carey or Warne? North too quickly reverted back to the Shinboner Spirit culture. Pagan didn’t embrace it but Laidley did. It’s an admirable culture but it doesn’t win flags. In Laidley’s defence, the AFL was trying to take the keys and kick us up to GC at the time, so he went into siege mentality. Look at our record in finals since 2000. Finals expose all flaws particularly belief.

    Scott is frustrating me. I didn’t like his outbursts earlier in the year. I wouldn’t have offered him the 3 -4 yr extension North have. We need to play two ruckmen. He insists on 1 and a half. Maybe Majak will become a second ruckman; he had a run in the middle on Sunday night. Or Currie.

    I don’t believe he has to let North ‘free’. We are as attacking or defensive as the next team. Our biggest problem is lack of belief.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    Another thing:

    We lack a bit of run this year. Remember how Atley and Harper tore apart the likes of Carlton last year? Opposition teams are more wary of Atley now and Harper is back in the magoos after a quiet few games early on. These two are very important. We need them to be up and about. There was something else but I can’t quite think of it…

  9. Andrew Starkie says

    Ah, that’s it. I remember.

    Majak was subbed off at 3/4 time on Sunday night. This surprised me. He kicked 3 points from set shots in the third term and could’ve been a match winner in the dying minutes. Black, who had a great third term finshed the game on the bench (I think). So we finished the game pretty small up front. Not sure why.

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