Killer instinct?

North Melbourne is in strife.  The expectation of a top four finish is over.  With four wins and five losses, North would have to win eleven or twelve of their remaining games to finish in the top four.


They might not make the finals.


The capitulation to Collinwood at the weekend left a lot of people stunned. Few clubs give up a 39-point lead and lose.  Good clubs never do it.


During the post-game interview, North’s coach Brad Scott described it as the worst loss he’s had in his time at the club.


‘We opened the door or left the door ajar for Collingwood and they ran through it,’ Scott said.


During the third term, when the Magpies ran amok, Scott said he’d made changes to halt the momentum but the players didn’t adapt.


‘Regardless of system and structure and alterations to that, we just took our eye off the ball,’ he said. ‘It’s as disgusting a performance as I’ve been involved with since I’ve been at North Melbourne.’


Scott has a selective memory.  North has lost plenty of games like that since he’s been coach.


Back in 2012, they gave up big leads twice.  In round 8, North kicked the first three goals of the last quarter against Port Adelaide to lead by six goals.  They then conceded the next six goals and lost by two points.


By round 15, North was in the eight on percentage.  They were plucking West Coast in Hobart, leading by 35-points during the second quarter.  The Eagles fought back to trail by 15-points at the last change.  North gave up four goals in the final term to lose by two points.


The disgust continued into 2013.  In round two, North led Geelong by 41-points during the second term and by 35 at half time.  The Cats kicked seven goals to three in the third term to trail by nine points.


Geelong won by four points.


After the game, Scott famously complained to an official about the roof being left open.  He was clutching at sunlight.


The following week in Hobart, North led Sydney by 14-points at half time and conceded 11 goals in the third quarter to trail by 47-points.  The final margin, 39-points, was flattering.


In round 9, North led Adelaide by five goals with ten minutes to play and lost by a point.  Two weeks later against the Suns at Carrara, North kicked the first five goals before conceding the next five.  They lost by 15-points.


Round 16 at the Gabba, North led by 26-points at half time, by 15 at three quarter time and lost by two goals.


Last year, after leading Geelong by 32-points midway through the final term in the semi-final, the Cats came back and lost by a goal.


The loss at the weekend to Collingwood wasn’t an aberration.  North aren’t just inconsistent week to week, they’re inconsistent during games.  There are many ways to explain it.  Think soft.  Think mental strength.  Think a lack of killer instinct.


On certain days, North can fake a killer instinct for a half but conceding two or three consecutive goals gives them the trembles.


These lapses can’t be explained on inexperience.  North isn’t at team filled with rookies.  Their list is one of the most experienced in the AFL.  These are hardened, tough men with finals experience.  The topped up their list this year in the hope of cracking the top four.


It’s unfair to blame Jarrad Waite and Shaun Higgins.  Injury has kept crucial players out of the team, but that’s no excuse either.


For some reason, on occasion North play like they’re powerless to slow the pace.  Panic overcomes confidence.  No margin is safe.


Every club is aware of the weakness.  Opposition players would be told to keep at them, they’re mentally weak, they’ll give it up so get into them.


These capitulations can’t be related to fitness.  It must be the expectation that someone else will get the hard ball.  It must be a desire to get where the ball isn’t when the heat is on.


Pressure makes hands so firm in the first half shatter like glass in the second.  Pressure causes decision making errors when the run is on.


Panic makes a team unable to think their way through a zone or grid or spread.   Fear makes the players unable to adjust when their opponents do.


Scott said the coaches were powerless.


‘There are two things you can’t coach on game day,’ he said.  ‘You can’t coach skill errors and you can’t control players getting beaten when we outnumber at the contest.


‘That’s as much mindset as anything.’


Scott refused to blame club leaders.  He blamed the passengers.  But when a team is so totally thrashed during 30 minutes of football, everyone is a passenger, from the captain to the substitute.


This is Scott’s sixth year as coach.  He’s contracted until the end of next year.  He might end up like Dean Laidley, who wanted a premiership after five years and had to settle for a preliminary final.


Last year Scott coached North into the preliminary final.  He’d been at the club five years.  He has mirrored Laidley’s tenure.  He’s in danger of exiting after seven years, like Laidley did.


‘We’ve got to turn it around very quickly,’ Scott said.  ‘At the moment we’re capable of what we’re capable of in the first half and really dominate a game, and then for whatever reason whether it’s mental aptitude or mental strength.’


Mental strength.  Aptitude.  Attitude.  Application.  Wanting it.  Sacrificing for the team.  Digging in.  Whatever.


‘We use the right words,’ Scott said.  ‘Being tough and ruthless and relentless but it was anything but in the second half.’


Some days there’s just no killer instinct at North.  It must embarrass the players and the coaches, because being called soft and mentally weak embarrasses the supporters.


When the club announced that Brad Scott was unavailable to coach for a month due to back surgery, people suggested he was having a spine inserted and his players should do the same.


Sarcasm aside, it’s not a backbone North need, it’s that ruthless killer instinct the best sides possess.


But killer instinct can’t be coached.  It’s a personality trait.  A lot of players have it.  Others that don’t feed off it and thrive.  Clubs with players like that don’t give up six goal leads…




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. Peter Fuller says

    This is a very thoughtful analysis of North’s “issues”. I don’t pretend to have a good grasp of the modern game’s tactical complexities, but I do feel that the importance of mentally strong players is a key factor in football (any indeed in any team sport). Your (and Smokie’s) observations indicate how critical this is in North falling short of their potential, given the relative quality of the playing list.
    The list of NM’s fadeouts is remarkable.

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