Greg Chappell farewelled test cricket with a stylish 182 against Pakistan at the SCG. Pete Sampras ended his career with a huge US Open win over his biggest rival, Andre Agassi (and just because I’m not sure when we’ll ever be able to give a shout out to this bloke on the Mongrel Punt again, after a big win over Sjeng Schalken in the semi-finals), and any 90’s child with a copy of Encarta will be able to recall the emotional farewell of Lou Gehrig from Major League Baseball to coin disesases named after him and spend time with son, Fraser.
Today, it was Brad Scott’s turn to consider himself-himself-himself the luckiest-luckiest-luckiest man on the face of the Earth-Earth-Earth, as Scott, a man who, into his 10th season of coaching, was able to recapture a positive winning record of 102 wins and 101 losses on his last effort (at least with North Melbourne).
Sir Doug Nicholls Round celebrations took a backseat as every possible connection to North Melbourne – Kelli Stevens, the family of the turn of the century butcher responsible for the Shinboners nickname, that elephant that would roam Arden St at half time joined in the team circle and celebrated an unconvincing victory and an unconvincing farewell to their senior coach.
The Roos, ultimately, were able to stave off a big last quarter comeback from the Western Bulldogs, and dig deep for the brother of Geelong’s premiership winning coach, Chris, as genuine affection and friendship with his players was clear to see during the post-match celebrations.
Scott was no shrinking violet in his farewell appearance in the blue and white coaching box, charging down to the ground at three quarter time, appearing to line up media critic David King with a hip and shoulder, missing the former North Melbourne premiership player by less than a foot, and having plenty to say to a bloke that many could argue carries a large amount of responsibility for Scott’s job being taken from him.
For North supporters, perhaps including the plucky young gentleman in the North Melbourne cheer squad who gave what felt like an eight hour interview to Fox Footy’s Tom Morris at three quarter time expressing his disappointment at Scott’s inability to counter the six-six-six rule changes brought in, they may rejoice in the arrival of new beginnings, both in the coaches’ box, but also in generational change being the impetus of today’s victory, with plenty of new faces at a club renowned for having their traditional favourites year in, year out the driver of a last quarter rearguard action.
Scott’s greatest successes over 10 years came from four finals wins. Two were against renowned September failures at the time (who if their performance anxiety were any more pronounced, they’d have been buying nasal sprays from Ian Turpie) and a further two against far more qualified opponents who had limped into semi-finals largely depleted by injury.
If it remains puzzling that Scott still received such a heroes’ farewell today, I suspect it was due to the unprofessional way the club handled the news of his departure. The public being aware of the news well before his charges, or even family, provided a sense of embarrassment for those around the club, and a universal opinion that Scott still deserved better than such a classless act.
It appears evident at this time that Scott’s early departure is to allow a path to be cleared to commence formal interviews and negotiations with rival clubs keen to beat others to the punch. A view largely driven by the idea that Carlton lead this chase. It is this reporter’s view that such a stance is largely driven by assumption, and to a lesser extent an enthusiasm toward the idea by Blues’ director of football, Chris Judd, which is not shared by list boss, Stephen Silvagni or club president, Mark LoGuidice. The possibility that a rival club is using the Blues as a stalking horse to enter their own negotiations under the radar isn’t out of the question either. All in all, if we cringe at the treatment to Brad Scott over the past week, we bristle at what’s to come for Brendon Bolton on the basis of little more than guesswork.
Scott’s greatest legacy to date remains that he is the standout student of a very dismal field of those to do a coaching apprenticeship under Mick Malthouse. But perhaps, today the emergence of Nick Larkey as a genuine game winner for the Roos may prove to be Scott’s greatest gift to Arden St.
With the game in the balance, Larkey’s appetite for the contest and capacity to provide a presence in the forward 50 was the difference between the two clubs on the day. On a day where Ben Brown was relatively well held by makeshift full-back Jackson Trengove (a handy three goal return with two coming from free kicks aside), Larkey was the dominant forward in the Roos’ forward line, and took full advantage of a mismatch on Zayne Cordy, in quite similar a manner to how Harry McKay was able to take apart an undersized Dogs’ backline. I’m not even sure saying the Jordan Roughead trade hurts even more is anything but disengenuous given Luke Beveridge’s refusal to play him back, but with Kieran Collins a bust as a first round draft pick, and Joel Hamling’s departure to Fremantle, the Dogs should have (and still could do on Monday) prepared better for such a threadbare backline.
Trent Dumont delivered plenty of run with a huge 314m gained over the course of the day, Tarryn Thomas had a quiet day and still bobbed up for two crucial goals, Cam Zurhaar continues his consistent run throughout the year as a very handy mid-sized forward with plenty of aggression at the ball and the man alike, and it looks as though Luke Davies-Uniacke is undergoing a reboot, being given game time up forward and slowly being reintegrated into the senior side rather than labouring away at VFL level.
They’re not the foundations of a sure fire premiership dynasty, but they’re arguably the best collection of young talent in Scott’s tenure, an era where such promise is usually sold off for the slightest sniff of free agency magic beans.
Two other major contributors to today’s win, I’m not sure where you put them. Todd Goldstein had 57 out of a possible 82 hitouts today. Ruckmen must be licking their lips when they see Tim English on the weekend ahead, as his opponents continue to rack up huge hitout numbers. Nonetheless, I’ll make the contentious call that they had SFA impact on the result today – certainly in comparison to Brodie Grundy’s 60+ the night before against a far better opponent in Callum Sinclair, and arguably less than the two goals kicked by English to begin proceedings in the final stanza, also giving the Dogs the lead temporarily.
English, despite ending up with less hitouts than his back up in Zayne Cordy, still managed to account for nine score involvements to Goldstein’s five. Goldstein failed to register a single contested mark, any mark inside 50, a centre clearance (Grundy had four in a midfield stacked with centre clearance specialists) and just the one one-percenter for the day.
Indirectly, I don’t think any single player has had as much influence on the fortunes of the NMFC and Brad Scott’s support within the club than his singlemindedness towards Todd Goldstein over the years. You only have to look at the refusal to play Braydon Preuss or Daniel Currie when form has supported the inclusion or Goldstein’s demotion to see that. The gap between the standard bearer of ruckmen in the game (Grundy or Gawn, take your pick) and what Todd Goldstein is capable of delivering hasn’t been this big a gap for nearly a decade. Whoever replaces Scott at the helm has a big call to make.
Where do North see Jed Anderson’s future? He was heroic and ferocious at the contest, and constantly putting his body on the line on numerous occasions in the frantic final quarter. For the other three, he seemed very content to rack up nothing possessions that went backwards, and play out a hard-man image off the back of cheap acts on younger players. Dom Tyson appears written off already, but ultimately is a far smarter ball user than Anderson. Not as quick, and Anderson has him covered with some manic desperation at times. Nonetheless, if that’s the options for the fourth spot at the centre bounce, North need to look elsewhere in the off-season.
I feel as though, as football fans, we got a bit short changed today as well – for the first quarter we were treated to a ripping contest between the old bull, Ben Cunnington and the……what’s the name of the occupation of the guy that milks bulls for semen? I don’t want to tarnish my Google history further. Whatever that guy’s called. That sounds fun. Bailey Smith, anyway.
These two went head to head at the centre bounces, and I’d have given the points to the rookie, Smith. Not just for nullifying Cunnington’s presence at the centre bounces but being able to cover far more territory around the ground, and get himself into plenty of possession chains. For a first year player, you can’t help but be impressed by his running patterns and his capacity to maintain such a high work rate early on.
…..Then Luke Beveridge switched Mitch Wallis onto Cunnington at the start of the second quarter. Cunnington started to have a say in proceedings, and the match turned accordingly after a ripping shoot out to start things off. Didn’t quite get Ollie Florent’s Brownlow chances spot on, but I’m pretty confident Bailey Smith has a role to play in the Rising Star tally already written off as a two horse (does that guy who extracts semen from bulls do horses too? Or is it an animal specific thing?) race between Sam Walsh and Connor Rozee.
The other move that I felt was crucial in North winning the match was being able to find a good balance for their match up on Marcus Bontempelli. Bont’s first quarter was him at his best, and took Jamie McMillan deep to the goal square, and subsequently tore him to shreds. Scott and co were happy to keep the faith with McMillan whilst Bont contested the centre bounces but handed the minding duties whilst he rested forward with Scott Thompson. Thompson took the honours easily for the remaining three quarters, and McMillan wasn’t too bad quelling his influence further up the ground either, after a shaky start to things.
We also need to look at the moves that North refused to make all game that probably allowed the Dogs to remain in the contest longer than they should have. Whilst Ben Jacobs remains a huge loss for North’s’ run-with roles, the refusal to do anything about Caleb Daniel, and to a lesser extent Jason Johannisen was a real headscratcher. Daniel, for mine, was best on ground. The bloke is <170cm and took NINE intercept marks today, which ranks as one of the most incredulous stats you’ll see all year. With question marks presenting themselves about whether his role was sustainable with the return of Matthew Suckling to the side, today put those doubts to bed. Some questionable decisions by foot aside, someone needed to shut down his influence today – whether that was a tag, or Jack Ziebell deciding that it was going to be one of those days after a near-possession less first half, and copping a three-four week suspension for something that would attract a $900 fine for a Brownlow chance.
While Johannisen’s influence wasn’t quite at Daniel’s levels – it was strange to note throughout the game that he was just running around without an opponent for the majority of the match. With just the eight touches to half time, and minimal influence to date, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a justified move, yet it was Johannisen’s trademark running goal that sparked the Doggies into action a few seconds into the second half.
If I can look forward to anything, it’s that this season has showed for every two stinkers, Aaron Naughton’s third game rebuttal is usually worth the price of admission. Had no influence today and was given a bath by Robbie Tarrant. Getting caught holding the ball taking on Marley Williams late in the game was huge in the context of the result. I would love to see him turn it on against the reigning premiers on their home deck as a response.
In closing, whilst we’ve been somewhat harsh on Scott’s coaching career in the editorial of this game, we’d be remiss not to reminisce about the absolute pants down reaming of James Hird in the 2001 AFL Grand Final. Game winning on the biggest stage of them all, and on such a nice bloke too.
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