I guess it had to happen eventually. Almost 12 years of beating Melbourne ended with a reminder of where our midfield mix stands at the moment, and what has to be done to get it where it needs to be.
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As we talked about numerous times during the week, Melbourne’s game is based on outnumbering around the footy and aggressively moving forward at all costs. It’s almost Russian Roulette football because if you lose it, you’re every chance of being scored on.
For the opposition to score on Melbourne all game, they need to do two things: win the ball, and use that first possession cleanly. Otherwise it’ll ping-pong back over your head just as quickly as you cleared it.
And those were the issues at the MCG. North did neither after the first 15 minutes.
We can go in a number of different directions with our talking points from here, but let’s focus on two which are intertwined: Todd Goldstein and the midfielders’ games.
Let’s not get carried away with badmouthing Goldstein’s performance. He was playing against the best ruckman in the competition, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary for anyone else to take that mantle.
Gawn has the size to beat anyone at around the ground stoppages, the athleticism to overpower almost anyone at centre bounces, and now the capacity to cover the ground for an entire game as well. For those who didn’t watch Melbourne at the Gabba in Round 2, Gawn’s effort in those conditions was superhuman; a 208-centimetre man shouldn’t be able to cover the ground he did.
Sometimes when you’re playing against the best, you’re beaten comprehensively. That’s why they’re the best. It happens. If Goldstein is beaten to the same extent by a middling ruckman, like a Rory Lobb or Tom Bellchambers, then we’ll dig in deeper.
However … however … when Goldstein is beaten it exposes what our current midfield setup can’t physically do; run defensively and prevent the sort of spread we saw Melbourne get again and again from the clearances it won.
To be fair on two counts, it is the ability which separates a great midfield from the rest, and its even more prevalent against Melbourne because of the risk factor the Demons play with as soon as they gain possession. It’s not as if we’re talking a basic, fundamental skill which is a pre-requisite to get to AFL level in the first place – it’s a hard thing to do, and not all people have the body type to allow it.
To explain what I’m talking about, let’s take the North goggles off and use Carlton midfielder Patrick Cripps as an example. He’s a star and an elite ball winner inside who also doesn’t have the quickest turn of pace. While a midfield with three Patrick Cripps would look dazzling when you win the ball, what happens when you don’t win the ball and the opposition is breaking away?
Now think of the three most ‘ball-winning’ inside midfielders in the North side – Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Trent Dumont. All with similar physical capabilities to a Cripps, and what happens when you don’t win the ball? Exactly what we saw against Melbourne.
It’s why the constant talk during 2018 will be about reformatting the midfield and finding a deeper mix. As the players with less on-ball experience – Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Taylor Garner, Jed Anderson to name a few – run through there, we’ll see more ups and downs from the natural inconsistencies which come with inexperience.
And ultimately, it sums up where the team is at. Until you build a midfield base which has depth and consistency, you can’t seriously compete at the top end of today’s AFL.
But I don’t want to end things on a negative, so here’s a gif of Majak Daw flattening Jordan Lewis. Until next time.
Answering Five Questions
How much time will Ziebell spend forward? – In an ideal world he would have spent more time up forward, but he was needed in the middle to help stem the flow of Melbourne spread. Then we suffered from not having a third marking option when he was on ball.
How will the defence stop Melbourne’s ball movement? – The defenders held up about as well as it could, considering the quality of Melbourne ball coming into the 50. Eventually they buckled in the final quarter, but it felt inevitable given what they put up with in the middle two quarters.
What is up North’s sleeve? – Robbie Tarrant as a late withdrawal was unique, but probably something that won’t be repeated too much more.
What happens if either side gets out to an early lead? – The big what if to come out of this game is if North hadn’t conceded the first two goals the way it did. They were both avoidable, and down the other end there were a couple of half chances missed. If the quarter time score was six or seven goals to one instead of five to three, the early lead may have meant something more significant.
Will we see #18? – Boo.