FEARLESS 2020: North Melbourne – all is not what it seems


Sometimes I get asked why I barrack for North. It’s a question that always makes me think why should I have to even bother answering it. A similar type of question would be ‘why is that baby’s hair colour black?’. You know, some things just are. The mere asking of the question can often elicit responses that are more like someone has been insulted.


In an eighteen team competition, as currently mandated by the AFL and staunchly reinforced by the AFL’s COVID-19 response (18 teams in, 18 teams out), the teams exist in unison under the binding contracts of broadcast and stadium management, club business and player management. Does that mean any supporter’s club is better than anyone else’s? Absolutely not. It just so happened the last time I was asked the question why, it was asked by a supporter of a club that earns a million bucks a year from it’s members waiting list! Again, does that make them better? Absolutely not! A competition doesn’t necessarily have all teams on an even footing.


After a close win against the Saints, largely due to Ben Cunnington’s last quarter heroics, our season came to a grinding halt, along with all other teams. A daunting round 2 trip to the Gabba suddenly became a huge void. COVID had derailed the season, similar to other sports. As we all know, the Queensland government came to the rescue. After a scheduled trip to the Gabba in late March, the old fixture got thrown out and round 2 became a GWS home game. At least we had footy again, albeit mid-June.


A powerhouse 20pt away win against last year’s Grand Finalists was a sign that the rust hadn’t settled over the COVID layoff. Cam Zurhaar certainly came out firing. Round 3 saw a sluggish Roos return to Marvel Stadium to take on bogey side Sydney and lose by 11pts, followed by a shocking game against the Hawks which we nearly pinched at the death. The resurrection of Josh Bruce saw that didn’t happen against the Bulldogs, a 49pt loss eroding collective belief. Coach Rhyce Shaw must’ve wondered what had happened now that he faced three collective losses. Therein lies pretty much the story of the season. Losses to the Bombers, Tigers and Blues sent the season into a tailspin.


Our next game was the remaining win for the year against the winless Adelaide Crows. Fortunately, the Crows had lost 9 games and we had lost 7. Injuries to key players and other squad members were hitting 17. It’s hard to justify any team’s performances when your list is so decimated. Winning builds belief and North’s win over the Crows at Metricon by 69 points highlighted belief and the significant return of Majak Daw from debilitating injuries that threatened to derail any future AFL games. To hear Hawk legend-turned-Foxtel commentator Dermott Brereton speak of the courage of Majak and how well the club had handled his return from injury was to listen to a man that had been scarred by family tragedy.


To categorise the remainder of the season as a mix of competitive losses and uncompetitive performances would be accurate. Hub life adjustment, the playing of games mainly in Queensland and attempts to bring injured players back into the team hadn’t worked. Ben Cunnington hobbled for 3 minutes and Jack Ziebell did a hammy minutes in. However, the biggest injury was when Ben Brown went down with a knee against the Cats in the first quarter. Unbeknownst to most North supporters, this was to be Browny’s last start as a North player. I’d never thought I’d say that. As the season unravelled, the club hierarchy had determined too many over 26 year old players needed to be more under 22 year old players. The chain was set in motion.


The commendable performances came against clubs like Brisbane, Port and West Coast. Sides that were serious contenders in this unique season. The really poor performances oddly came against sides that weren’t yet in that upper echelon. Melbourne, Gold Coast and Fremantle played North and weren’t really challenged. This year has seen an erosion of what we like to refer to as Shinboner Spirit – get on the ground and give your best effort. Be tough, be uncompromising. Be hard to beat; well, as I said, that went missing. Its presence is what keeps the tried and true North faithful coming through the turnstiles. Well, in any year apart from this!


Despite the doom and gloom of finishing 17th out of 18 teams, players of the future were still getting games and have been doing so since Boomer and Dish were retired by then coach Brad Scott. The culling of a dozen North players, many assistant coaches and the trading of two club favourites in Ben Brown and Shaun Higgins will endeavour to refresh the direction and the collective capability.


Whatever the media likes to call a fifteen year rebuild of a club that ultimately is headed to Tasmania, the media have been counter-productive in season 2020. It’s hard enough to get through a disappointing and injury-ravaged season with the supporters’ dignity intact. Who needs the media throng talking rubbish? Remember 18 in, 18 out.


There is no doubt that the AFL has taken a hit in 2020 and North, like all clubs, will also need to amend spending habits. North’s collective resilience will bounce back and put the club into 2021 with a profit and a renewed list under a new coaching structure. Whilst we acknowledge Rhyce’s contribution during this hellish year, it is important that he gets better. His health comes first, second and third in the scheme of things. His family require him to be healthy and all the North faithful want that too. We would like to see him back in footy one day when he is ready to resume. Until then, the Noble North is diligently preparing for what lies ahead.



To read more from FEARLESS, click HERE.


The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published early in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



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