Round 18 – Essendon v North Melbourne: The Unlikely Round 18 Victory

I was walking into Etihad Stadium when Robbie Tarrant was announced as a late withdrawal for North’s clash with Essendon. Any glimmer of hope and expectation I had on the game’s result had left the building – I was preparing myself for a repeat of our 70 point thumping at the hands of Port Adelaide the week before. With Josh Williams coming into the line up for his AFL debut, he joined six players with less than 10 games experience… and boy did the baby joeys put on a show.


North dominated the first three quarters and made Essendon look second rate everywhere but on the scoreboard. When the Bombers threatened to run away with the game, North responded brilliantly, and quickly. But with so much inexperience, tired legs kicked in late and a Bombers’ win was inevitable. North were unapologetic in their hard attack on the ball. Their pressure was sensational and as a result, all 4 goals in the first quarter came from turnovers.


But to Essendon’s credit, they turned things around well. They smashed North in the clearances and went on to win the game by 27 points. Dyson Heppell led his team to victory, and his inspiring performance carried on post game as well. Following his interview after the siren, he joined the North camp and shook hands with every player in a blue and white guernsey – a great display of leadership and sportsmanship. Probably something he could pass onto his teammate Cale Hooker, whose ‘bully tactics’ towards third gamer Daniel Nielson left the football world less than impressed.


But now to the real winners of Saturday’s game – starting with defender Scott Thompson.


His shutdown role on Essendon forward Joe Daniher was simply fantastic. He kept Daniher to two goals and minimal influence on the game. At the other end, All-Australian defender Michael Hurley struggled to contain Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite. They kicked 10 goals between them, and Brown’s equal career-high six goals launched him into second on the Coleman leaderboard. Brown is making a name for himself as one of the game’s most dangerous forwards – not just in the air but also below his knees. Matthew Lloyd named Brown best on ground… hard to argue with that.


Taylor Garner and Luke McDonald were brilliant. They were ruthless in their attack on the ball and saw off just about every challenge standing in their way. Garner with 25 possessions, 10 marks (5 contested) and a goal was probably North’s best alongside Brown. McDonald gathered 22 touches and rebounded well out of the Roos’ defensive 50. They were joined by Dumont, who was superb upon returning to the lineup. Equal team high 28 disposals, 4 clearances and a goal – not a bad day at the office.


Upon news that Captain Jack would be miss the clash with Essendon, there was one man in the side who suddenly had a bigger role to play. Former skipper Andrew Swallow needed to step up in a leadership role; even more so with the late withdrawal of VC Robbie Tarrant. He played his best game for the year and really rose to the occasion. His courageous mark and goal deep into the final term just about summed up his game. Played like a true leader. Higgins was outstanding too, in his first game as captain.


As for the under 10-gamers, some played better than others and with experience they’ll all grow into better footballers. Of the lot, Sam Durdin was probably the best and Nielson played pretty well for most of the game.


You have to give some credit to Brad Scott. He’s often been criticized for not going hard enough at the selection table, however he delivered not once but twice in this game. On Thursday night, North’s line-up was without Goldstein and without Thomas. In their places, Shinboner 1004 Nick Larkey along with youngsters Sam Durdin and Ryan Clarke in the mix. Then another challenge, 40 minutes to game time. Robbie Tarrant hurts himself during the warm up. Scott easily could’ve gone the safe option and brought in Lachie Hansen, however he went with newbie Josh Williams instead, and the debutant kicked the game’s opening goal with his first kick.


There’s a lot to like about North’s future, and the signs we saw early on in the season have re-appeared. My one point of concern would be that despite the impressive performances, and despite the large number of debutants for North this season, the Roos are yet to win a rising star nomination in 2017. But Carlton boast 5 and the Lion’s have 3 – in a team serious about a re-build, they are lacking a little star factor amongst the youth. But if the Roos combine well as a team, then that may not be such a major factor in seasons to come. It’s still something to think about


North supporters wanted 100 per cent effort and that’s exactly what they got from the team against Essendon. It’s performances like this that had fans pleased at the start of the season. Are there one or two wins to come for season 2017? Well, if the same effort is thrown into the remaining five games, then every one of them is a winner.


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