AFL Round 7 – Western Bulldogs v North Melbourne: Tempo

By Rob Chanter

In Ontario, May marks a change in tempo. The beginning of the end of Winter comes in early March, when all the cool Winter stuff winds up – the outdoor skating rinks close down, all the festivals that rely on snow and ice are now a memory. The rest of March and April are, not to put too fine a point on it, dull. The trees are still bare, and the weather is taking its sweet time warming up. The whole place is playing a waiting game.

But May comes and it’s like flipping a switch. The trees bud, and then all burst out almost overnight. Everyone’s out in shirtsleeves at the merest hint of a warm day. The pubs all set up their patios. And it’s playoff time in the hockey. This year the Leafs rode some luck, hot goaltending and a shortened season to the playoffs for the first time in 9 years, where they run into the Big Bad Boston Bruins, their nemesis of the last few years. Toronto is even more hockey mad than usual.

To everyone’s delight and relief, they are taking the series up to the Bruins, and are playing their best hockey of the season. The coach has finally decided to leave young defenseman Jake Gardiner in the lineup, and his speed, vision and puck handling are helping them clear the defensive zone effectively. The Leafs have found their Shaun Atley. Tonight they won a tense game to stay in the series; they’ll probably go out this round but they’ve done the city proud, and they finally seem to have set up the young core that they’ll build their next contender around.

May marks a change in tempo in the footy, too. The season is a quarter gone, and we’re looking for the chaos of the first few rounds to start settling down into patterns we can make sense of. Are the March and April bolters for real? (Essendon maybe, Port Adelaide probably not). Can the slow starters get their seasons back in order? (West Coast probably, Adelaide maybe not). And can North shake off their tough-and-sometimes-encouraging-but-ultimately-disappointing first month, and get to the byes in touch with the 8?

For North this game is, in a way, a celebration of the sorts of players who have done well there in the post-Carey era: middle-of-the-road draft picks and rookie picks who have pushed themselves to overachieve.

Brent Harvey returning from suspension for his 347th game: the 3rd-rounder who was a late inclusion for the Big V and E. J. Whitten medal winner all the way back when anyone gave a damn about interstate football.

Michael Firrito playing his 200th: the rookie pick who Glenn Archer wanted to have the #11 when he retired.

Scott Thompson playing his 100th: a mature-age draft pick snatched from under Geelong’s nose, who is only now starting to be known for being a very good fullback rather than just for pushing poor little Barry Hall over.

Majak Daw: perhaps you’ve heard of him? Sudanese rookie-picked project player who had only played a couple of dozen games of organised football at any level when he was drafted.

We’re going away to Orlando the following day to take the boys to Disney World, so it’s going to be too busy in the morning to watch the replay over breakfast. The only way I’m going to see it is live. The lure of Boomer’s return, the milestones and the prospect of an entertainingly comfortable win prove too much, so I set the alarm for 02:30.

Out of the blocks, North look as sluggish as I feel at this stupid hour, and struggle to do more than keep their noses in front. For 3 quarters, this game is almost the inverse of the corresponding fixture last year. The Doggies’ contested game keeps them in it, and North lack the outside class and finishing polish to put the game out of reach. But instead of being constantly a couple of goals the Doggies’ way, it’s constantly North’s way. Still, it’s not without its highlights: Boomer’s effectiveness going inside 50 is telling, and Majak is kicking goals. The prettiest bit of play comes from Bob Murphy, who turns Jamie MacMillan inside out to goal on the run from the forward flank. As long as North win I won’t begrudge Murphy that one; he’s a class act.

So the book on North seems to be to try and curtail their inside game, and let their lack of outside class take care of itself. It’s how Sydney got us, how Geelong  ran us down, and how the Dogs stay close in this one. It all unravels in the last, as North’s control of the game’s tempo takes over and they run away with a 9 goal to 4 quarter. Majak’s 6 will be the talk of the game, but Goldstein’s and Ziebell’s efforts at crucial times were at least as influential, as was Harvey’s presence and polish.  The two milestoners, Firrito and Thompson, were less conspicuous, though Scotty did keep his man goalless again. 54 points, and should have been more with straighter kicking. Probably, on balance, worth getting up for.

We’ll take this one. Not much to go on for next week’s game in Perth, but not bad as the pace of the season starts to get serious.

Western Bulldogs 4.1 7.3 11.7 15.7 (97)
North Melbourne 5.5 8.11 13.14 22.19 (151)

Western Bulldogs: Giansiracusa 4, Markovic 3, Murphy 2, Griffen, Minson, Dahlhaus, Smith,  Wallis, Austin
North Melbourne: Daw 6, Petrie 3, Black, Goldstein, Ziebell, Thomas, Macmillan 2,  Harvey, Sierakowski, Atley

Western Bulldogs: Griffin, Minson, Giansiracusa, Murphy, Dahlhaus
North Melbourne: Goldstein, Ziebell, Harvey, Daw, Thompson, Atley

Umpires: Donlon, Foot, Mitchell

Official crowd: 23,690

Our Votes: 3 Goldstein (NM), 2 Griffen (WB), 1 Daw (NM)

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