Round 23 – Richmond v North Melbourne: Desperation without demand for victory

At the weekend, for the first time in years, I tanked a game of football involving North Melbourne.  As Richmond got on top during the third quarter, I gave up.

 

Tanked it.  Stopped watching.  Stopped supporting.  Stopped caring.

 

North Melbourne, in arrogance never before seen from a team finishing eighth, rested nine players and picked a team that couldn’t win.

 

The ramshackle side Brad Scott put up might have wanted to win.  And with careers on the line, they certainly tried.  But winning wasn’t the plan.  Preservation was.

 

Resting alleged stars was written off as player management.  With finals guaranteed, finishing eighth didn’t matter.  It meant a final at the MCG instead of a trip to Adelaide.

 

One need not be a cynic to see the angles.

 

Scott’s selection policy could turn out to be inspired if North defeats Richmond next week.  He’ll say it helped set the club up for a prolonged assault.

 

But North finished eighth, and no team in final eight history has ever won the premiership from that rung.

 

And North go into the finals having lost their last two home and away games.  Just two teams since 1970, Hawthorn in 1976 and Sydney in 2012, have won the premiership after losing their last two home and away games.

 

Brad Scott must have serious faith in his player’s ability to climb from eighth to premiers.  And that smacks of arrogance.  Because few people believe North can win the premiership.

 

The policy of player management isn’t against the rules.  As long as AFL rules governing selection remain as they are, nothing can be done.

 

There was a brief outcry from Adelaide.  AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said it was a bad look then shrugged.  What could he do?

 

Despite the furore, the rules should not be changed.  The AFL run the competition, not team selection.

 

And North and Fremantle, who also deliberately lost the last round, didn’t lose to get better draft picks.  They lost to better prepare for the finals, because they believe they can win the premiership.

 

Old clichés apply to this kind of selection policy.  Don’t flirt with form.  Pick your best team, winning is everything.

 

Winning the last home and away game isn’t everything, not anymore.  It is all about management.

 

Ross Lyon, as coach of St Kilda and Fremantle, has routinely rested players in late rounds when winning no longer mattered and losing couldn’t alter ladder position.

 

Lyon has coached in four grand finals for one draw and no wins.  That seems an indication the policy isn’t working.  Don’t flirt with form, if you have any.

 

On Friday night, after turning my back on the television during the third quarter, I listened to music instead of the digital radio broadcast.  I wasn’t angry.  I wasn’t despondent.  I just thought if Brad Scott doesn’t want North to win, why should I?

 

Why support something that isn’t real?  I understood what he was doing, but the gamble, for a side finishing eighth, seemed too great.

 

I was reminded of the movie Major League.  Tom Berenger played Jake Taylor, a fading baseball player desperate for success.  Corbin Bernsen played Roger Dorn, similarly faded but no longer interested in winning.

 

At a pivotal moment during the season, Berenger (Taylor) saw Bernsen (Dorn) not going hard at a ball.  Later, Berenger (Taylor) confronted Bernsen (Dorn) at his house.

 

“Some of us still need this team. Now you listen to me! This is my last shot at a winner and for some of the younger guys it could be their only shot. I don’t know what happened to you. But if you ever, ever tank another play like you did today, I’m gonna cut your nuts off and stuff em down your fu**in throat!”

 

That fictional passion was a desperate demand for victory.  On Friday night, I saw desperation without demand for victory.  A horde of players without hope of finals, doing their best.  For the team.  For the club’s future.

 

For their future.

 

Some of the inclusions might’ve played their last game with North Melbourne.  They might’ve played their last game of AFL football.

 

It could be said games were given to players who didn’t deserve it, players who weren’t expected to influence the result.

 

It was football reduced to nothingness, which is why I didn’t care what happened, for the first time since I can remember.

 

Brad Scott wasn’t acting illegally.  It’s within the rules.  But that kind of selection policy doesn’t lie within the spirit of the game, where winning is everything.

 

And if North lose their elimination final against Richmond, Brad Scott won’t be asked questions about AFL rules that allow this kind of player management.

 

He’ll be asked to defend his player management ahead of the finals.  And I’ll be listening why…

 

 

 

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…

Comments

  1. Arrogance or pragmatism? What would we have said if one of the Nine Outs had been injured on Friday? That Scott was a dill for playing them hurt with nothing to play for? And once you rest 3 or 4, especially if one of them is Goldstein, what difference does it make to rest a couple more, or even a couple more than that?

    I went, enjoyed the game for what it was. I just can’t see how your best 22 in self preservation mode is any less of a problem than what they actually did.

  2. Bec. Blossomvictory says:

    Good write, well done Matt!! … Simply, ‘Lack of Footy spirit’ is the name of B. S & the NMF!!! Lollll … .. .

  3. Rob,
    I understand. I guess I could’ve shortened the ramble by saying I can’t disagree with the strategy, but it didn’t give me any hope of victory.
    I knew that going in and still tried to watch.
    It was kinda hollow.
    But, if it works and we beat Richmond, I’ll feel full again….
    Cheers

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