Finals Week 2 – Sydney v North Melboourne: An empty forward line, space in cupboards

The Arden Street Bar was full.  A pseudo celebration and hope of victory.  Eight men, none with any empathy or desire for Sydney.  Support rested with North, the underdogs from eighth.


I’d already played the game dozens of times in my head.  North won each time.  I kept thinking about emptiness, that forward line bereft of Buddy Franklin and Sam Reid and the midfield missing Luke Parker and Kieran Jack.


Key outs in Sydney.


In the bar, we poured beers and played pool, listening to AC/DC and Cold Chisel.  Roast lamb was cooking.  Just like old times.


Midway through the first quarter, Sydney had concerns.  Kurt Tippett was in the ruck, with Mike Pyke up forward.  North was matching Sydney in the contest but missing set shots.  The quarter time margin was two points.


I went upstairs to make gravy.  Cupboards recently laden with food and utensils suddenly had space.  Things weren’t there.  I put the pot on the stove then went and stood in my boy’s room.  Angus wasn’t there, no sheets on the bed, toys scattered about.  In his brother’s room it was the same.  And Jim wasn’t there.


Drawers were empty.  More space in the house.  I pulled the curtains closed.


The Swans were depleted.  I wondered if their coach, John Longmire, was missing his boys and pulling curtains over this year’s premiership window.


I took the gravy downstairs and walked into the maelstrom.  Mates in the Arden Street Bar, total delight.  We were eating as the second quarter started.  North got the first goal.


Life couldn’t be better…


North controlled the second quarter but missed set shots and turnovers prevented a bigger lead.  When Adam Goodes shanked a snap with seconds remaining, it was clear Sydney wouldn’t win.


At half time, Andy and I cleaned the dishes.  ‘You can sleep in Angus’s room,’ I said.  ‘We’ll have to clear the toys off the bed.’


Back in the bar there were conversations everywhere.  Thousands of words said, very few remembered.  As the third quarter started, Danny took a snooze on the fold out bed.  Stevo lay beside him, a respectful distance apart.


As Sydney pushed forward and kicked a goal, Andy shook his head and spoke with fear.


‘I get the feeling Sydney can tear this game open,’ he said.  ‘North looks tired.’


Nick threatened to banish Andy from the bar.  It didn’t dissuade him as Sydney maintained possession and worked hard.


‘I think the Swans are going to get on top,’ Andy said.  ‘I don’t want to say it but I can’t see how North will win.’


Nick made another threat. ‘You can go outside now.’


Sydney’s lack of key forwards was stark during the third quarter.  They were on top, but North was solid in defence.  They kept working, attacking, and a late goal put them 13-points up at three quarter time.


I slipped away, rinsed beer bottles and stacked them up in their crates.  I could hear the boys in the garage, their moans, curses and squeals, a cacophony of magnificence.


For a moment, I pondered the empty house above.  Some people I know would’ve been hoping for Sydney to win.  I thought about my phone call to Angus before the game had started.


The last thing he said was ‘Go Roos.’


I laughed.  ‘Go Roos,’


When I returned to the bar, North kicked consecutive goals.


After being threatened earlier with expulsion, Andy suddenly changed tactics.


‘North are all over Sydney,’ he said.  ‘You can start celebrating.’


As the game wound down, our words became short, go, yes, good mark, kick it, fuck it, stupid, hold it.  Every effort was met with grunts or gasps of disbelief.


With five minutes remaining, Adam offered certainty. ‘North can’t lose from here.’


‘Adam,’ Nick said.


When Jarrad Waite kicked his third, I tapped Stevo on the back and thanked him.


‘Carlton should recruit someone like Waite,’ Adam said.


Five minutes became three.  There were goals.  It didn’t matter.  With one minute remaining, we were shaking hands and grinning.  The final margin was 26-points.


North became the first team to finish eighth and make a preliminary final.  It’s their first away final victory.  It came against a team weakened by absences.


After we sang the team song with the players, Adam declared the party was just starting.


We talked, sipped beers and listened to music.  Threw high fives.  Fantasised about winning in Perth amidst shaking of heads and fatalistic shrugs.


Difficult, not impossible.  Certainly harder than our first two finals.


When I went to bed, Andy was playing Cold Chisel on his phone while he cleared the toys of Angus’s bed.  After a couple of songs I called out.  Andy turned the music off.


Sunday morning, when I picked Angus up, I wore a North Melbourne t-shirt.  My thoughts were on empty forward lines and half empty cupboards…


‘Go Roos,’ Angus said when he saw my t-shirt.


I picked up my three-year-old and hugged him.  ‘We won, too.’


As we drove away, I told Angus North had made history.  He smiled.  I talked to him about the game, about playing in Perth next weekend, and we might not win that.


‘West Coast won’t have an empty forward line,’ I said, glancing at him.  He looked at me.  ‘It makes a big difference.’


I turned the radio up at ten and listened to ABC news.  There was a story about North’s win.  The newsreader introduced Brad Scott.


‘Daddy it’s North Melbourne,’ Angus said.


I looked at my boy in the back seat.  He was smiling.


‘It’s North Melbourne,’ he said.


I laughed, put my eyes back on the road and offered my left hand for a low five.  Angus slapped it.  I drove north, musing about the game, about empty forward lines and new space in my cupboards.



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. CaballoViejo says

    I’m looking forward to the karma bus running over a few kangaroos this weekend in retribution for their throwing the round 23 game so that they wouldn’t have to risk facing the Dogs again this year. Such gutless wonders.

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