Well, look at that. I made it almost the entire pre-season without writing something about North Melbourne. I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.
The idea for this article has been floating around in my head for a little while but I wasn’t sure whether or not it was worth putting out there. So I did what all reasonable people do: I asked Twitter.
I should write an article where I tell people why most opinions about North Melbourne are wrong y/n
— Josh Elliott (@JoshElliott_29) March 13, 2017
You asked for this, folks. 65 per cent of you at least. You can’t un-ask for it! So here it is.
Without further ado, I present to you six things you probably think about the North Melbourne Football Club, and why they’re wrong.
North Melbourne had an awful form collapse last year
If you just skim the win-loss line, this one does seem pretty black and white. In the first 11 games of the season North went 10-1, in the next 11, they went 2-9.
Most people will happily tell you that North’s good form early, including a 9-0 streak to start the year, was the product of a soft fixture – and that is at least partially true.
What gets ignored is that North’s ‘bad’ form in the second half of the year was the product of a fixture run just as hard as the earlier leg was soft.
Across the entire season, North only lost a single game to a side that finished below them on the ladder, and only won two games against sides that finished above them.
That paints a pretty clear picture of a team whose ladder position reflects perfectly where they were at.
That’s not to say that North wasn’t a somewhat better team earlier in the year, when Jarrad Waite and Todd Goldstein were in their best form.
But for the most part, their bizarre win/loss line was more the product of a lopsided fixture than it was a lopsided effort from the side.
The moving on of Boomer and others was poorly handled
For North Melbourne supporters, the club’s sudden announcement that Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo would not be offered new contracts is one of those traumatic ‘where were you?’ moments.
The club quickly came under fire for how they handled it, too – a simple press release on the website, followed by a press conference where none of the departing players was present.
This was put in contrast to the virtual love-in retirment pressers of players like Matthew Pavlich and Lenny Hayes in recent years. And while that’s how we would have liked these players to go out, it’s not really a fair comparison.
The key thing here is that unlike Pavlich or Hayes, none of these players wanted to retire. When told they wouldn’t get new deals, they understandably weren’t keen to pretend it was by choice.
That left the club in the awkward position of either trying to cover up the news until the players came around, or breaking it to the fans in the best way that was available to it.
Many say that North Melbourne should have waited until after the season to inform the players of the decision and avoid such unpleasantness with just weeks left to go – but that would’ve been unfair to both players and fans.
In the end, the club made the decision to be honest to its players, and honest to its fans. Stuck in a bad situation, it did the very best it could possibly do.
North has moved on all its best players
Brent Harvey was one of the best players’ on North Melbourne’s list, if not the best, and his loss will be keenly felt this year.
Daniel Wells and Nick Dal Santo too will be missed as they offered a level of class with their disposal that is rare in the AFL and rarer still at North Melbourne.
However it would be a mistake to suggest, as many have, that by moving on these three and Firrito and Petrie, that North has dropped its best talent.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved all of these players to bits. But that doesn’t mean that they were without their flaws.
Neither of Petrie and Firrito were playing particularly well in 2016 despite the occasional flash of brilliance, and might well have been dropped under a coach more prone to shaking up the side.
Harvey and Dal Santo are great users of the ball, but neither had a great deal of defensive application and the way the modern game is trending that is no longer something a player can neglect.
Wells was arguably North’s most talented player on the list, but we all know his injury issues.
These players have contributed plenty to North’s success in 2014-2016, but it would be doing the rest of the list a disservice to think that all the accolades belong to them.
Brad Scott is a terrible coach
Opposition fans don’t like Brad Scott. And that’s okay, because really, you’re not actually supposed to – he’s our coach, not yours.
He says strange and ill-considered things at press conferences, he makes his own language out of arm-waving when in the box.
However, it’d be a mistake to think that his quality as a coach can be read entirely from those occasional moments where he lets himself down.
What has to be remembered is how far back North Melbourne was from the rest of the competition when he took over – it was a club still stuck very firmly in the 90s.
Now the team runs like a very modern organisation and is on par with or ahead of the rest of the competition in how it trains and prepares.
If North Melbourne has ‘overperformed’ – an oxymoron if ever there was one – despite having a substandard list in recent years as so many claim, then logically that must mean we have an excellent coach. You can’t have it both ways.
Is Brad Scott a perfect coach? No, of course not. But he has taken this team from being well behind the pack to at least being a part of it.
Maybe now as the club embarks upon a freshening of the list, he will have the opportunity to use the platform he himself has helped to build to spring ahead of the rest.
It’s a simple equation really – so often people say that North has a bad list and a bad coach. So how is it that we’ve regularly performed at a half-way decent level?
If he looks like a doof in the box every now and then, well, I really don’t mind. We might not exist if he hadn’t done the job he has.
Majak Daw will be a best 22 player this year
Now don’t get me wrong – I am by all means a fan of Majak Daw and I would love to see him become a truly worthy AFL player at North Melbourne.
Many have him earmarked to be a clear part of the best 22 at North Melbourne this year, though, and that doesn’t make sense to me yet.
You’re either playing him as a forward or a ruckman – and I don’t think there is room for either in the ideal North Melbourne side.
If he’s a ruckman, he’s got to wait behind Todd Goldstein – and it’s possible that Braydon Preuss could be ahead of him here now.
If he’s a forward, he’s got to wait behind Jarrad Waite, Ben Brown and Mason Wood – and in time, Ben McKay too, most likely.
He will probably play Round 1 given Mason Wood is going to miss the first few weeks with a hamstring, and maybe he can cement a spot.
But at the moment, putting him in North’s best side is a bit premature.
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North can’t make finals in 2017
North Melbourne are the side most likely to drop out of finals from last year and in many cases, they are the only side many people are tipping will do so.
Look, that’s fair enough – there are obvious demographic reasons why that should be the case and they only barely scraped it in last year.
However, it’s worth noting that North Melbourne’s fixture in 2017 is a fair bit easier than the one it faces in 2016.
It starts off rough – North will most likely be 0-4 after four rounds, and 2-6 at best after eight.
You can very much expect that the endless parade of doomsayers will be prematurely making their voices heard at that point in the year.
Things open up marvellously from there on out, though. North’s 2017 fixture is essentially the exact opposite of what it faced in 2016.
If North was to beat all the teams in 2017 that it didn’t lose to in 2016, it would finish with 13 wins – enough to play finals.
Logically if the team gets worse it will be surpassed by a few of those sides and won’t reach that watermark. And that’s probably what will happen. I’m not tipping North to make the eight.
But, there is somewhere out there a universe where the combination of Jack Ziebell’s leadership, a new youthful and more competitive club culture and a greater focus on physicality and team defence sees this side actually improve, or at least tread water.
Maybe – just maybe! – we live in it.