Saturday night football, and somehow North Melbourne, the wooden spooner of the last two years, have been gifted a primetime MCG slot, against the Dees. As a North fan, I can’t complain, but it does seem a bit of a strange decision from AFL HQ. It gets even weirder when you consider the fact that West Coast, the team that finished second bottom last year, are participating in the other Saturday night game, and they are also playing against a finals favourite. Perhaps Gil and co. were feeling compassion towards the other football codes in the country and their inferior crowd numbers, and decided to give them a bit of a boost with these questionable Saturday night fixtures. How selfless of them. Let’s delve, dive, get, or whichever verb you prefer in the consumption of football content, into it.
Defensive Demons: Melbourne have set up their defensive structure with rapid and expert precision, and are stifling the Roos’ ball movement. North are regularly forced to switch the ball in the backline in search of a gap, which is nice for their Fantasy scores but not overly beneficial in terms of the actual game. Any long kicks down the line from North are picked off by the Demons’ defensive pillars as well. Honestly, forget having one person to carry out the role of Director Of Public Prosecutions. Just hire the entire Melbourne Football Club.
Short-sighted shenanigans: Melbourne’s ball movement is also top notch during the first term. Every player’s first instinct is to lower their eyes and search for a short pass to a leading teammate, and the result is swift, effective ball movement whereby there’s always a clear link in the chain further upfield.
North: Shambles: Speaking of Upfield, North may have taken the wrong train and ended up there. They’re certainly not at the ‘G, at any rate. They’re repeatedly failing to kill the ball in aerial contests, letting their opponents evade them with ease, and by and large providing all the defensive resistance of a disoriented car salesman.
Comben injury, just for a change: Charlie Comben has been a constant positive for North this season, but his wretched injury history gains a new chapter shortly after the opening bounce, with his ankle/leg twisting underneath him as he contests a ground ball. It’s nasty vision, the stretcher is required, and I am more upset than I’ve been after any of the smashings the club has suffered in recent years. He’s far and away the most unlucky Charlie C. in the league. Any chance Curnow or Cameron could spare some of their mojo?
1%ers: If I were a paragon of cliches, which I am, I’d describe Melbourne’s approach as emphasising ‘the basics.’ Knock ons, shepherds, blocks are all commonplace as the Dees effortlessly extend their lead. The best example is provided by Bayley Fritsch, occasionally labelled as selfish, who shepherds on the goal line to allow a Kozzie Pickett bomb to bounce through untouched. He’s a bloody handy player, Fritsch, with a sizeable bag of footy tricks. Said bag might even be bigger than his forehead.
Cruise control: The Demons’ juggernaut is humming along nicely, and the scary thing is, they haven’t even looked like they’ve been trying very hard. Sprint efforts haven’t even been required, they’ve simply outmuscled and used their energy more effectively than their opponents, without appearing to break a sweat. It’s as if they’re on the freeway to the airport at some wacky time and have just chucked the car on cruise mode at 110, not a car around them and not a care in the world. Meanwhile, North are on Wellington Rd at 5:30pm on a rainy Friday evening, barely able to find a gap in the traffic and feeling rather despondent about it.
Fee fi fo fumble, I smell the blood of a 100 point loss: North are expertly committing errors wherever they can. Fumbled handballs, wayward kicks, and hospital disposals that don’t give the receiver much of a chance at all are all showcased. It’s not a pretty style of footy and hampers several possession chains that look like they could cause at least some scoreboard impact. North are 11 goals in arrears at half time and this could get nasty.
Laziness: The movement forward of the ball is severely lacking. Paul Curtis, Kayne Turner and Jaidyn Stephenson are particularly culpable in this. It’s true that the ball hasn’t made it down the North end very often, but effort is non-negotiable, and some of the efforts I witness from the forward six to provide a leading target are absolutely pathetic. With post-goal songs being all the rage at the moment, The Eagles’ Take It Easy is the obvious choice for most of the North forward line.
Deadeye Van Rooyen: To this point, it’s been an obscenely accurate display from the Demons. Their first non-rushed behind for the entire game is kicked by Christian Petracca midway through the third term after they already have 15 goals on the board. However, normal service swiftly resumes with young gun Jacob Van Rooyen slotting a lovely shot from the boundary shortly after. I really wish those two incidents were swapped, as it means I’d be able to say that JVR Van Rooyened the streak. Way to let down the column, Jacob.
Get out of jail: With Grundy, Gawn, May, Lever, and Van Rooyen in the same lineup, the ability of the Demons to win aerial contests is formidable. The presence of Gawn and Grundy in particular is a nice outlet for the Dees when they get stuck in their defensive half in a much more even third quarter. Not since my brother thrashed the rest of the family at Monopoly has a get-out-of-jail-free card been used to such good effect.
Ziebell, get ball: It’s a rubbish pun, but I’m writing this at two in the morning, so cut me some slack. Jack Ziebell stands out like a monk at a rave party in comparison to most of his teammates. His commitment to spoiling in aerial contests is brilliant, his field kicking is generally superb, and he’s clearly providing a much-needed level head to an under-siege backline. On one hand, it’s heartening to see, as he looked past it last year, but on the other hand it’s concerning that someone who the team still relies on so much is part of the over 30 brigade. Ah well, it’s great for the team that he’s playing well, and he has one of the more international sounding names on the team too, so some diversity points for that, too.
Cunners’ cunning: Ben Cunnington undeniably has had his best game for the year, with his trademark left-handed handballs sparking many an attack. Some of the agility in traffic also seems to be back despite the fact that he still moves at the pace of a cruise liner. I reckon the AFL community should chip in for a new quad bike for him or something. The man deserves only the best quality in farming tools.
Gut running: The endeavour of some of the Dees’ players, particularly the outside players, is ridiculous. Ed Langdon powers on, Alex Neal-Bullen never stops, Clayton Oliver is bursting out of stoppages as he was doing at the very beginning of the game. Here’s me being spent after a particularly intense game of FIFA, meanwhile there are blokes younger than me sprinting down the wing of a mega-sized stadium twenty minutes into the fourth quarter. What a lovely uplifting thought that is.
Have some perspective, lads: Melbourne fans and players alike are absolutely filthy that the Dees concede the final three goals of the game, thus meaning the coveted 100-point margin is not attained. The way they carry on, it’s as if North have somehow stolen a portion of the winnings. I understand the desire to crush an opponent underfoot, but man… Some of those irate Dees fans might benefit from digging up some old artefacts from the Mark Neeld era. If that fails, then pop down to the holiday mansion in Portsea for a bit and cool off. You can’t come away from a game like that feeling disappointed. It defeats the purpose of winning.
WA conquest remains: For basically the entire second half of the game, there is a peculiar symmetry with the scoreline in the concurrent game between West Coast and Carlton, with North Melbourne and West Coast matching each other pace for pace, and likewise for Melbourne and Carlton. Upon Ben Cunnington’s goal on the final siren, North pull ahead of West Coast’s score. It’s probably lost on most people, but I’m not most people. I’m far weirder, but that’s beside the point. North have you covered, WA.
The bloke behind me: The bloke behind me at the game has quietened down and engaged in fairly amicable conversation with me after spending most of the first half screaming at the umpires, and we part with a firm handshake. Fair play, mate. I wouldn’t want to sit in front of you again, but it was nice to bond over the small (believe me, they were small) positives.
At game’s end, the scoreboard shows an absolute pantsing in Melbourne’s favour, 22.7.139,-7.7.49. Melbourne get the points and the plaudits, while North take home the prestigious ‘most satisfying score’ award. Melbourne would’ve taken home that award too if they’d scored 11.11.77, but alas, they were far too focused on ‘scoring’ or ‘good football’ or whatever. Nerds.