Preliminary Finals – West Coast v North Melbourne: Eagles Do Eat Roo Meat

During the build up to the second preliminary final, a mate sent me a text questioning North Melbourne’s September victories.  Roos super lucky.  Tigers super soft.  Swans super depleted.  Eagles super spanking?


My response, perhaps affected by beer and the euphoria of victory over Sydney, was juvenile and incorrect.  Sshh.  Not super lucky.  Good enough to win.  Eagles don’t eat roo meat.


I lied.  Having worked on a farm in Rockhampton in my twenties, I watched plenty of magnificent eagles feasting on dead kangaroos.


That’s what happened in the second preliminary final.  The Eagles had a neat feast without gorging themselves.


North dominated the opening quarter.  But finishing eighth meant finals without a break.  North had enough stamina left to be competitive for two quarters and win one.


West Coast outscored North 10:18 to 4:9 after quarter time.  The final margin, 25 points, could’ve pushed out to fifty.  Mark Le Cras and Josh Kennedy missed gettable shots when the Eagles were on top.


Their inaccuracy kept North in it.  The umpires kept North out of it.


Now, I’ve long been called an umpire lover.  I don’t mind the moniker.  As a former umpire of junior and senior footy, and having played football across those age groups, I see things from both sides.


I’ve never blamed the umpires for a loss.  About their performance in the second preliminary final, I will say several decisions seemed to go against us.  There were two non-decisions inside I can remember, maybe three that could’ve resulted in free kicks to North.


I can remember a couple of soft free kicks West Coast received that led to goals.


So what…


It wasn’t the umpires that forced North to kick out on the full nine times during the game.  The umpires didn’t force turnovers or keep us outside 50 for long periods during the second and third quarters.


The umpires didn’t force Ben Brown to fluff a simple handpass to Shaun Higgins as he ran into an open goal in the third quarter.  Or force Jarrad Waite to kick a thirty metre pass direct to an unmarked Eagle at centre-half-back, who started a chain that led to a goal.


Forget the umpires.  North Melbourne wasn’t good enough.  West Coast deserved to win.


Six of us watched the game in the Arden Street Bar.  Hot dogs and chicken wings were dinner.  Beer dessert.  Only Simon supported West Coast, but he kept his eyes on the second television, watching the rugby league preliminary final.


The second television is smaller.  There was no volume.  In the bar, AFL rules.  Simon didn’t mind.


I had my first bet for the year, $37 on the line.  If North won or lost by less than 30-points, I would double that stake.


As the game wound down, my bet became a point of interest, the last thing worth barracking for.


I’m not your average gambler.  It was just my 30th bet since January 2012.  That’s an average of seven bets a year, and only one this year.  Of those 30 bets, I’ve won 17.


In 2010, I opened my account with a hundred bucks.  That stake has taken five years to double.  It’s hardly worth doing.


Like playing preliminary finals when you lose.


It was North’s lowest losing margin in a final since 1994, when we lost to Geelong by a goal after the siren.  Usually, when we lose a final, we get hammered.


Maybe a portent to a possible future.  Maybe not.


Before the game, I said if North lost it meant they haven’t improved on last year.  After the game, I asked the gathering to respond.


‘We won 14 games last year and finished sixth,’ Adam said.  ‘Then won two finals and got hammered in the preliminary final.  This year we won 13 games and finished eighth and did the same in the finals.’  He shook his head.


I looked at the television.  The final margin hadn’t changed.  By virtue of that margin, North has improved, but a team that improves doesn’t finish two rungs lower, regardless of finals wins.


Russ, who called from Melbourne, disagreed.


‘North was a better side this year,’ he said.


I couldn’t rid myself of the inconsistency and the beltings.  When North lost, they usually lost big and to teams they should’ve beaten.


‘Next week I’m going for Hawthorn,’ I said.


The Pole nodded.


Russ demurred.  ‘I’m going for West Coast,’ he said.  ‘Or should I say I’m not supporting Hawthorn.’


Adam was despondent when he went to bed.  My brother Nick hadn’t said much throughout the second half.  I called him a cab.  The Pole, who wanted a Hawthorn/North grand final, made his bed.


Simon was spinning on his stool.  West Coast was in the grand final.  The Broncos were too.  And to top it off, the Cowboys defeated the Storm in their preliminary final to set up an all Queensland league grand final.


Stevo wanted one more beer.  He was disappointed in Waite’s performance.  ‘You can see why we let him go to North,’ he said.


I felt like another beer.  Didn’t have it.  I called Stevo a cab and hauled my misery to bed.  If an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, I stayed awake about an hour.  Thinking about footy.  Thinking about life.  Thinking about my bet.


I hate losing.  If North Melbourne won, the grand final would’ve been sentimental.  It was 40-years ago that North won their first grand final against Hawthorn.


I hate losing money too.  As I settled into the pillow, I thought about the bet.  Losing without getting blown away made me $37.


As Russ said, it’s easy money.


Easy money.  When you lose.  I call it blood money.


On Sunday morning, I picked up Angus.  I was wearing a blue shirt.  He couldn’t find North’s logo.


‘Is that a Roos shirt?’ he asked?


‘No Angus, we lost.’




‘We don’t play in the grand final.  It’s too soon to wear a North shirt.’


We went to the movies and watched the Minions film.  It’s about a group of creatures that strive to serve the most evil beings on the planet, and usually end up killing them.


Football fans are like minions.  We strive to serve our chosen gods, but quite often those gods end up evil and killing our psyche.


Next weekend I’ll be in Melbourne.  I was in the North Melbourne ballot for a grand final ticket.  Now I have to run the gauntlet to get a ticket.


Wise men have long argued that you’d rather lose a preliminary final than a grand final.  I tend to agree with that argument.


Wise men have also suggested you get what you deserve in footy…


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. Very fair summary (as always Matt). Can’t have the 2 hard games and travel as much of an excuse for North. They had the good draw with soft and softened-up opponents. It certainly didn’t stop Hawthorn. In the first half I told the Avenging Eagle several times that we were getting a good trot from the umpires. That evened up after half time, but we made the most of our opportunities (save for goal kicking) and North did not. I could not believe the lack of fight from North after half time, when there was a GF for the taking with the Eagles struggling for cohesion. I have named the most obvious culprits on other threads, but it made me think of a Malthouse corporate talk I heard around 2000. He talked about Alex Ferguson geneously mentoring him when he was a young coach. One of Ferguson’s principles was to get rid of players who don’t win titles or play well in big games. Ferguson traded his own son rather than betray his principles, and his wife didn’t talk to him for 2 years. North has a few favourite sons that are serial underperformers in big games.
    Given their resources North can be proud of their achievements in recent seasons, but they have not improved. Trading for experienced players is OK, but the Eagles success this year is built on young and local talent (albeit some like Yeo and Wellingham and Kennedy local sons returning home after being press ganged as youths).

  2. Very noble not to blame the umpires by highlighting the errors North was making but I Still take the view that umpires have a profound effect on the outcome of the game. As you rightly say, West Coasts bad kicking kept North In it , BUT if the umpires had given North a better than fair run, we might be hearing from Eagles fans lamenting that ‘bad kicking cost us!’

    The fact is, all players make mistakes that affect the game….but so do umpires….not only with free kicks incorrectly paid but also those incorrectly NOT paid of which there are often 20 or 30 in a game, until they finally ‘pull one out’ that has everyone flummoxed.

    In Friday Nights prelim, Hawthorn could barely touch the Ball in he 1st 10 mins and when they DID, they either went sideways to keep possession or lost it due to fine tackling…but at no stage did the umpires punish them for incorrect disposal. Then when their first 4 scores came from the type if frees you would NEVER SEE paid AGAINST them, we saw a significant momentum swing. Further to that Hawks spent the evening encroaching on the mark plenty, got paid marks for kicks that clearly travelled less than <15m (Terry Wallace noted 'at least 15 times), were allowed to dispose of the ball incorrectly, chop arms, punch heads, push players to ground who were already falling just to keep them out of the contest. Yet the same concessions were not given to Fremantle.

    I'm convinced that both results were pre determined. Having 2 WA teams in The Grand Final would have been a logistical nightmare for the AFL and also a political nightmare for the VIC govt who stupidly have made Friday a public Holiday. Plus the betting agency that already paid out on bets for Hawks winning the flag were never going to want to pay out on ANOTHER winner as well. That is why we are seeing all 3 Umps from Fridays prelim – clearly the worst umpired game of the season – get selected to do the Grand Final

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