Round 9: Fortress Hobart

Pre-match I discussed how there were very few excuses for North to lose this game.

After a professional second half to put the game well out of GWS’ reach, the ladder sees North sitting in the top eight after nine rounds, with a softer draw coming up in the next six weeks. Do we reassess what 2018 could bring?

But before we start talking long-term, and before I consider changing the name of this website to bask in Jed Anderson’s red-hot form, let’s go over the key lessons learned from win number five of 2018.

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When you’re coming up against a side low on confidence and manpower, there is always the chance to bury them early – even more so when you’re kicking with a strong wind in the first quarter.

Initially it looked like that was how the script would unfold. The Giants looked all at sea with their plans – how can you not play in front when you’re going against the wind – and North had three goals on the board in quick succession.

Even after a period of brief stabilisation from the visitors, when Waite kicked his third goal just before time-on in the first quarter, it looked like North was on for another big afternoon.

Instead the next 35 minutes were probably the worst North has played all season.

It started – as games always do – with GWS winning plenty of the ball at the contest. But just as importantly, the Giants found a way to neutralise the extra defender North had sitting back waiting to intercept.

A combination of shorter ball movement allowed GWS to maintain possession, and when it was forced to go long it was in situations where there’d be big packs of players, which meant it would be rare for North to gain clean possession from those contests.

Six of the first seven goals of the second quarter to the visitors meant the score line started to look dicey heading towards half time. GWS was all over North, pumping it inside 50 repeatedly and looked threatening on every occasion.

It was already a nine-point Giants lead with 4:30 remaining when Rory Lobb marked at point-blank range. Then, thankfully, in a turning point which can’t be emphasised enough, Jeremy Cameron intervened to allow North time to gather and recompose.

R9_1

What is the point of this? It probably shouldn’t be a free kick in the first place, but why give the umpire the opportunity to call one? Then to compound the mistake, Cameron gave away a downfield free which allowed North to take possession inside its forward half. The ball didn’t come out of there until Mason Wood goaled, very much against the run of play.

It allowed North to hang around temporarily, and thanks to a Heath Shaw poster after the siren the margin was only five points at the main break. But it was clear to properly change the game flow, the major adjustment needed to come around the ball, simply through winning more of it.

Todd Goldstein started it all, with a couple of crucial handballs. He had eight score involvements for the afternoon to go with his 17 disposals, 39 hit-outs, five clearances and a goal in arguably his most well-rounded game of the season.

Either side of half time, Goldstein had a direct hand in three consecutive North goals. First it was the direct assist to Mason Wood, followed by a hockey assist for Ben Brown’s first of the third term and then another handball to set up Brown’s high free kick straight after.

North was +16 for the quarter in contested possession and +11 in clearances, a huge and ultimately game-defining shift. GWS had a focus in the first half of outnumbering around the ball and then using the advantage to stream forward.

When North matched those numbers and won clearances, it was like winning the lottery. All those numbers around the ball meant acres of room for Ben Brown to move in. How can any defender legally stop Brown when the ball is kicked to his advantage in this situation?

R9_2

Yet to focus just on Brown in the third quarter would ignore the bigger picture and the benefits of a multipronged forward attack.

If Waite wasn’t around, or Jack Ziebell and Mason Wood weren’t legitimate targets, the Giants’ defensive unit could easily have peeled off to sit in front of Brown. But because of those three Roos, the big man had plenty of space to work in and made the most of it.

Assuming Alex Pearce goes to Brown next week, it’ll be an intriguing matchup. Pearce has become the rock of Fremantle’s defence and is in some impressive form after missing the better part of two years due to injury.

But back to Hobart, and despite a 33-point lead at three quarter time the job wasn’t entirely done.

The Giants had the first five inside 50’s of the final quarter, and likely more than 90% of time in forward half in the first six to seven minutes of the term. All they got from it were two rushed, low-percentage snaps and a set shot from 55 metres out for a total of three behinds.

Then for North to go straight down the other end and convert through Dumont’s banana under pressure – that was the backbreaker, especially with the wind dropping off. The psychological double whammy of conceding the first goal with plenty of time already having run off the clock was too much to overcome.

It was the sort of final quarter from North which only comes from experience at the venue. Recent wins against Melbourne (x2) and West Coast provided the blueprint on how to defend in a final quarter when you’re going to the non-scoring end.

Generally, if you’re in a defensive mode – i.e. if scoring isn’t necessarily a focus – the best way to move the ball is around the near side through run and handball. That way if you do turn it over you still have numbers around the ball and the opposition has it on the tougher side of the ground to score from.

Bringing it around the near side means you’re going right into the teeth of the wind, which is why you see long kicks drop short so often going in that direction. So if you still need to score against the wind, you take risks going around the far side. You get more meterage on your kicks heading that way but also know if you turn it over, the opposition is in an easier position to score from.

AFL 2013 Rd 06 - North Melbourne v Port Adelaide

This concludes another lesson on how to play at Blundstone Arena, brought to you by the North Melbourne Football Club and The Shinboner.

Next up is Fremantle at Optus Stadium in the Sunday twilight timeslot. With the long break, we’ll be back during the week with an extra post or two. Until next time.

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