11 wins from the last 13 matches at Blundstone Arena qualifies the ground for fortress status; it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s where North has played best in recent years.
But I’ve been kicking around a thought in recent days: what makes the place so imposing?
I believe it boils down to three main areas.
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Where to move the ball
Contingent on there being a wind of some description, there is essentially a dead side of the ground to avoid when you’re heading with the wind to the right of screen.
Picture Blundstone Arena as you’d see it from the broadcast camera at a centre bounce. The wind tends to push the ball towards the top right-hand corner of the ground. Therefore, your ideal ball movement uses the far side of the ground as much as possible, while avoiding the boundary line on the near side.
It’s much easier to use the wind to your advantage from set shots on the far side of the ground. Allow Brent Harvey to demonstrate.
When you’re against the wind – assuming there is one – moving the ball around the near side is extremely important. As we mentioned last week in our Round 4 preview, GWS did it to great effect early last season. Therefore, when the Giants did turn it over, North usually gained possession in a difficult position to orchestrate quality scoring shots.
You’re almost forced to run and carry when going to the left of screen, because kicking long out of your defensive 50 is usually the best way to ensure it comes straight back in. I spent too many quarters on the club Twitter feed hoping an avalanche of inside 50’s against North would result in no scoreboard pressure.
If you go back through the archives, you’ll find a lot of ‘hurry up siren’ tweets disguised as something diplomatic.
Converting chances on goal
North knows where to move the ball in general play, which then translates to getting in the best positions for quality shots at goal.
There is a fine margin between using the wind to your advantage and the wind making you look like a fool, as we’ve witnessed over the years in Hobart.
Consider the following, from the last 13 games at Blundstone Arena:
Opposition: 140 goals, 169 behinds – 45.3% conversion rate
North Melbourne: 198 goals, 152 behinds – 56.6% conversion rate
(Note: I don’t have access to the private Champion Data numbers which also count complete misses on goal. Bump each number down a couple of percentage points and you’ll be closer to the exact percentage.)
And again, on Saturday night, North kicked 18.8, its most accurate performance in front of goal for some time. It’s a slightly arbitrary way of simplifying things, but in the last 13 games, only thrice has the opposition kicked more goals than behinds.
The intangible mental edge
How many times have you seen sides beaten the minute they stepped onto Subiaco Oval, or at Kardinia Park?
The whole concoction of elements which go into travelling to a ground you’re unfamiliar with naturally helps the home side – even more so when there are just three games at Blundstone Arena each season.
There have only been 16 games played in Hobart since it became North’s home away from home in 2012; there isn’t a long, exposed body of work sides can use as a dossier. The dimensions of the ground also don’t stand out when compared to venues in regular AFL use.
A lot of what opponents are left to rely on for preparation is a limited sample of previous games, without your own exposed form on a ground most players have never stepped foot on, let alone played an AFL match there.
There is a natural uncertainty which visitors possess in the early stages in Hobart, and North capitalises on it. In this stretch of 11 wins from 13, only twice has an away side led at quarter time – by no more than 12 points.
North knows how to play at the ground well and is familiar with everything there inside out. It’s tough to accurately state just how much of a boost this gives their confidence when they see an opposition on Blundstone Arena for the first time.
Combine the above and it’s the recipe for what we’ve seen at the ground.
You’ll notice our next opponent at Blundstone Arena is GWS, so I refuse to allow this piece to be held up as a jinx if the Giants do defeat North in Round 9 – they’ll be favoured to. Insert the guy tapping his head meme here.
Thanks once again for reading; with a Sunday game against Hawthorn in Round 5, our next piece will be a Saturday morning look at the Hawks, followed by the Sunday morning preview and Monday morning review, assuming nothing else pops up in the meantime.
Until next time.