The Wrath of Josh

By Josh Barnstable

Something isn’t right at Aegis Park. Something has gone wrong, deep in the heart and soul of the North Melbourne Football Club. 10 rounds into the season, sitting 12th on the ladder with just four wins, everything possible has gone pear shaped for the club that promised so much in the pre-season.

But where does the blame sit? On the field? On the training track? In the coaches box? Try all. Let us start, however, where the boys in blue polo’s sit.

The Coaches Box 

Brad Scott was plucked from Collingwood where he was the Development Coach. He oversaw the maturity of the likes of Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas, Dane Swan and Travis Cloke. A likeable character, he keenly applied for positions as the head coach at other clubs, including Richmond, who knocked him back, and North Melbourne, who accepted him.

Some said that the Tigers, by appointing Damien Hardwick as their senior coach, would’ve been better off with Scott. I can truly say that I wish roles were reversed right now.

Scott has dug himself a rather big hole, one that he cannot seem to get out of. Not only has he countlessly talked up the side as they challenged one of the competition’s heavyweights, only for the boys to be left embarrassingly in the limelight of the media, but he has stubbornly built up a gameplan with no plan B. It worked for three weeks in 2012. We came unbelievably close to beating Essendon in Round 1, we demolished Greater Western Sydney by the biggest margin seen this year, and we kicked the biggest score up to Round 10 of the AFL 2012 Season, and we had the football world buzzing with our impressive three goal victory over Geelong in Round 3.

If not for a stray kick after the siren, we would’ve been 3-0. Sydney worked us out the next week, and defeated us effortlessly. A week after that, the Gold Coast Suns tried hard and almost caused an upset, then came a string of losses to the West Coast Eagles in Perth, the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium and Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium after leading by over five goals nine minutes into the final quarter. North Melbourne’s direction was seriously questioned after that heartbreaking loss, and only a 16 point victory over the Brisbane Lions, after leading by nine goals in the second half, silenced the critics. But, back in the spotlight do the Roos find themselves.

Embarrassed at Aurora Stadium by Hawthorn on the back of 13 goals from Lance Franklin, Scott has to face the criticism. Why was the agile, but slow Luke Delaney played on that freak of a footballer? Why was Scott Thompson robbed of his confidence against a much bigger opponent? Why was Nathan Grima not given a better crack against his best opponent, physically and aerobically? Why does Scott continue to ignore what is happening on the field? Why did he not put players into the backline to flood the Port Adelaide forward 50 when they were coming home with a vengeance the other week? Why can’t he man up and make the hard decision on McIntosh and Goldstein, a decision that is clear to all. McIntosh needs to go, but the coach cannot tell him that. Scott continues to believe the handball happy gamestyle, where North players get the ball and look to dish it off with their hands before thinking about kicking it, is going to work. What he doesn’t realise is that it was discovered by Geelong in 2007, it took them to a premiership, and the other teams worked it out. While some may have forgotten how to combat it, they quickly learnt again. That is why Geelong were such a good side, they had a gameplan for all situations. We seem to have just the one, and we’re not going to win another game this season bar the Suns and the Giants if we stick to that.

An alarming issue for the club is the lack of senior assistant coaches. Darren Crocker is a fantastic assistant coach, and if he was on the market, he’d be highly sought after. Controlling the midfield, he is in charge of the development of guys like Jack Ziebell, Shaun Atley, Ben Cunnington and Levi Greenwood. Shane Watson is the coach of the defenders, and he last played in 2000. After coaching the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup for three years, he was plucked by Scott to be an assistant. That is a mighty big jump from TAC Cup coach to AFL assistant coach. Finally, our forward line coach is Brett Allison. Also out of the game for 12 years, it begs the question whether North would be better off throwing some coin at some likely candidates being bandied around. Look at Essendon. Their senior assistant coaches consist of Mark Thompson, Simon Goodwin and Sean Wellman. It is no coincidence that they are second on the ladder at this moment. Why didn’t we grab Rodney Eade last year? Why haven’t we gone after someone in the media, such as Cameron Mooney? Fresh out of the game, understanding of the current-day player’s needs and extremely caring to the development of young players, he’d be a perfect fit at the club where it all started for him. Is it necessary to throw the coin at someone like Dean Kemp, someone who has helped develop the likes of Luke Shuey, Scott Selwood, Andrew Gaff and Chris Masten in the west, or even Mick Malthouse? Look at how Greater Western Sydney are benefiting from having Kevin Sheedy as the coach with Mark Williams lurking in the background with his intimate knowledge of the game. North clearly lacks in this department.

The Training Track

North embarked on an expensive pre-season camp to Utah for high-altitude training, in the hope of improving the tank of each player, so they are able to run out games better. Yet, eight weeks into the season and the Roos are able to concede five goals in a row in the last quarter against Port Adelaide as they were overrun. A week later, Brisbane got a run on when 51 points behind, kicking five goals without a score from North Melbourne, and kicked another four in a row to finish the match 16 points in arrears. In Round 10 against Hawthorn, the Hawks kicked nine goals in a row from late in the first quarter to late in the second. After two from Sam Wright, the Hawks kicked a further nine majors in a row, and had another row of four in the final quarter. What of this altitude training then? Why is Jamie MacMillan jogging around puffed, not being able to follow his opponent by the second quarter? Clearly the effects are not paying off.

On Field

It is only fair that some of the blame for the poor performances recently go on the 22 players that wear the blue and white. While Scott has failed to enforce an unpredictable, damaging gameplan, the players have failed to take it upon themselves to change the result of the game. Anthony Stevens, Glenn Archer, David King, Adam Simpson, the North blokes of old, they would’ve changed the game with their performance without looking to the coaches box, relying on change. Jack Ziebell has so far failed to live up to the high standard he set late last season, with a string of poor performances following his outstanding game against Geelong in Round 3. Ryan Bastinac has been up and down, and hasn’t played a good game in a while, Levi Greenwood’s place in the side isn’t as certain as it was after he gathered 39 possessions against Melbourne to finish off the 2010 season, while Ben Cunnington is only starting to show some promise as a number five draft pick, but he too is too up and down. The only shining lights for North can be seen from Shaun Atley, who has really taken his game to a new level in just his second season, Kieran Harper has continued to be a jack-in-the-box across half forward, while Aaron Black showed a huge amount of promise last week against Brisbane. Cameron Delaney and Aaron Mullett have also been impressive in the backline, and look like they’ll be in the blue and white for a fair while.

Some players just haven’t come on. The club has persisted with Robbie Tarrant, but so far he has shown nothing to suggest he won’t be the Zac Dawson of the North Melbourne list. Lachie Hansen is a number three draft pick with perhaps the best tank, agility and hands in the game, but he is still much-maligned and is yet to take a game by the scruff of the neck, and he’s been playing since 2007. It is a sad state of affairs when most North supporters can’t wait for him to get back into the side, as he is yet to feature so far in 2012. Liam Anthony was hailed as the future after his debut in 2009, but he has stalled. Some impressive performances this season have saved his name, enough to suggest he’ll either be traded for a high enough price or kept on for next season, but his disposal and commitment to a contest still leaves much to be desired. Ben Warren is a better forward than Aaron Edwards, he just can’t keep the ball in his hands when he goes for a mark, and he has gone off the radar as a target of our forward line for the future. Greenwood’s lack of skill and polish has seen him go behind Harper, C Delaney and Atley for a spot in the best 22, while Cameron Pedersen seems to have lost his spot in the side that he had sewn up late last year.

Maybe the North Melbourne list isn’t as talented as the club, and supporters, hype them up to be. Maybe they still need a couple of years on the track in the pre-season (in Australia, forget Utah), maybe they need some better assistant coaches; maybe they need a new head coach. But one thing will stay the same, and it is my commitment to the Shinboners, as the high they will endure will be worth the wait, when it comes. But right now, as all faithful supporters do, I’ll ride this wave out, the wave that’s worse than 2006.

But solace does come from that comment. We made a Preliminary Final after ’06.

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.


  1. Thoughtful analysis Josh. The handball happy gameplan was noticeable against the Eagles in Perth. Let us crunch you in tackles and you turned it over. Your point about assistant coaches seems sound.
    As for fitness, watching a ‘beaten’ Crows run over the Dockers in the last 20 minutes made me think that it’s more mental than physical. Running to provide numbers and a contest late in a game is the supreme test of mental will. Arizona is no substitute for Anzac. I am surprised that a Brad Scott team appear so soft.
    The player you didn’t mention was Drew Petrie. He was poor against us, and with your game style you are crying out for a strong tall to contest and hold it in the 50.

  2. Excellant critique Josh .You have touched on the real issue -very ordinary talent identification .Tarrant ,Hansen and Cunnington are all top 10 draft picks who are VFL standard at best .We also have a one paced midfield with terrible foot skills ,as evidenced by our performances against Sydney ,the West Coast ans Western Bulldogs .Much as it pains me to agree with that boofhead Mark R

  3. Sorry !! Hit the submit button by mistake .Back to the boofhead Mark Robinson-we have an overrated list which is being poorly managed at the moment .Agree with your comments about Hamish .Did the brains trust think he was going to morph into Dean Cox over the summer ?We cant have 2 lumbering ,non marking ruckmen in the same team Still ,it could be worse.I had planned to fly down to Tassie for the Hawthorn game but was a late scratching !!

  4. Lord Bogan says

    Really enjoyed the article Josh. You write from the heart, yet still have the balance to ask the tough and appropriate journalistic questions. Well done Barney :)

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