North Preview – Beginning, Middle and End

Another season swings into view and with the conventional wisdom being that the current North Melbourne squad is in now-or-never mode, I’m led to ponder why this might or might not be so. Turns out that like most teams, North actually has a number of players at different stages of their careers.

It’s the circle of footy life that there are the champions we feel privileged to be able to watch for a last season or two, see them one more time before they’re gone. Lenny’s farewell tour a couple of years ago. Goodes last year. Nick Riewoldt must surely be close to the end, as must Swanny and Pav. Who at North?

Boomer, sure, but given his durability and consistency over so many years, you couldn’t say we’ve been cheated out of being able to watch him strut his stuff. Rather, let’s pay attention to a couple of players of whom we haven’t seen enough.

What crossroads to I need to wait at to strike a deal for one more season of Daniel Wells at his best? Come on, just one more good season. After the osteitis pubis, after being mismanaged by Laidley and unleashed by Scott, after the pulmonary embolism, after Drew Bloody Petrie wrecking his foot (and he was still BOG in a final), the Footy Gods owe us one. Last year, as he worked to try and come back from an achilles, or calf, or whatever, I’d head down to training on my day off just to watch him play kick to kick. Even with a buggered achilles and carrying a few extra kilos, he moves like only he can. Hits target after target. Nonchalantly scoops up a ball, turns and caresses it through from 50. The ball just jumps off his boot. The extra bit of resilience to translate that into game fitness eludes him. But please Footy Gods, let this be the year.

From long time crush to hired gun, we’re not going to have much time to admire Jarrad Waite. This time last year I — and most North fans, and especially Smokie — were scratching our heads over this one. Talented, inconsistent, temperamental, injury prone. Daw, Black, Wood all lining up for their shot at the 3rd tall forward role. What exactly were the North brains trust up to? For a while it looked like the naysayers had a point. Flat-track-bullied the Lions to the tune of 7 goals but otherwise underwhelming. Eventually though, he got the message about how this forward line was supposed to function, and how hard he had to work to stay in it. With Petrie’s work rate the exemplar, he shot up the league table of pressure acts among forwards; freed from the burden of being the focal point of a dysfunctional forward line in a crappy team he thrived as a 3rd tall with the sort of mismatches Petrie and Brown created for him, and made decisive contributions in a pair of finals wins. Watching a guy with some genuine mongrel come in to a team of Mr Nice Guys is refreshing too.

Going to the footy’s not about the nostalgic farewell tour though. Despite the perception that their best players are all old, North’s engine room, 8 of the top 10 in last year’s B&F, are in the prime of their careers. A couple to watch closely:

As Wellsy glides, Ben Cunnington waddles. Wellsy sidesteps with flair and flourish; Cunners just kind of shimmies and all of a sudden is going in a different direction to everyone else. Wellsy hits targets by foot with impossible peripheral vision; Cunners threads handballs through impossibly tight spaces. He’s right footed but always handballs on his left. He’s not a long kick; holds the ball kind of weirdly on the side for his ball drop, but is neatly accurate in his range. Kicks bananas nonchalantly off two steps. He has two looks; death stare and cheeky grin. He’s all compact economy of motion. By God he’s fun to watch.

Just quietly, in between injuries, Jamie Macmillan has become a good player. He’s a straightforward type. No bag of tricks about him, no aerial acrobatics, dribble goals from the pocket, telepathic handballs. Just consistent, smart footy. Fills space when it needs to be filled, gets on his bike up the field and runs in support of the ball carrier, intercepts, makes good decisions and hits targets. He’s a good kick but no Daniel Rich. Harder than Rich though. He’s a reliable mark but no Easton Wood. Faster and stronger than Wood though. Doesn’t have Firrito’s bullocking strength but a more creative ball user. And most of all, never stops working.

So what remains is who we’re going to spend our next decade with. Who are the kids of whom we can’t wait to see what they do next?

Like Kayne Turner the year before, Taylor Garner made his presence felt in a pair of finals. In the second quarter of the Elimination final, Richmond were starting to kick away. 3 quick goals and all the momentum before Tay Tay stepped in. Big pack mark and goal. Hit Waite on the lead with a tricky kick on his left. Then paddled a loose ball through traffic before gathering, blind turn, fend off and the vision to get a nice handball off to Boomer streaming into goal. Back on even terms and the stage set for overrunning the Tigers in the second half. In a team that lacks a bit of swagger, this kid has it.

Every year we draft a batch of future 200-gamers and hall of famers, at least half of them also future captains, usurping all those 3rd-year list cloggers who haven’t turned into superstars already. While Clarke and Hibberd look sure bets to have good AFL careers and McKay is a project (Big Men Take Time™), the one that really interests me is Declan Mountford. On the basis of a 5 minute video of junior highlights, one and a half quarters of intra-club and the same amount of a NAB game, I declare this kid The New Boomer. Quick, evasive, composed in traffic, likes a goal. Look, there’s no doubt some reason he lasted until pick 60 in the draft, but I have to assume the reason is that the recruiting managers of 17 other clubs are idiots. More fool them. Tune in if he gets picked for a debut.

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Great piece, Rob. You’re spot on about Taylor and Mac. They are the sort of players who can win you a flag. They add depth and x factor.

  2. A good summary, Rob.
    The players I am extremely curious about are our 2014 draftees:
    Sam Durdin, Daniel Nielson & Ed Vickers-Willis, none of whom played
    a senior game last season.
    I am starting to break out in hives every time I see or hear the name
    Jarrad Waite mentioned.

  3. Tim Pegler says

    All fired up, RC. I’m keen to see how Jed Anderson fits in. Hopefully Cyril mentored him a bit over at the happy team.

    Couldn’t agree with you more on Daniel Wells. Brilliant to watch, even at training. Best switcher of play I’ve seen. If we can keep him in one piece he could be our ‘Recruit Of The Year’.

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