Let’s take a trip to Imaginationland for a moment. Picture the following happening in a North Melbourne game:
- After dominating large parts of the first quarter, North trails at the first break.
- After another big period of momentum in the second quarter, North only leads by one point at the main break.
- After having approximately 154% time in forward half for a 15-minute period in the third quarter, North only leads by 11 points at the final change.
- Two quick Fremantle goals cuts North’s lead to just three points with 13 minutes still remaining, and the Optus Stadium crowd lifting along with its side in the rain.
With all the above in mind, can you picture last year’s outfit steadying and winning going away on the road? Or any North side of the last few years?
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Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the inability to convert in the first quarter were clear signs of the ball movement clicking. It meant there was little reward for arguably the best offensive quarter since the first term against Hawthorn.
But the signs were there from the forward unit. As much as it’s a cliché, you can often spot whether a player is set for a big game in the first quarter. And for Kayne Turner, the signs were there with multiple pressure acts at the contest early.
A goal in the second quarter, six tackles for the afternoon and a career high 23 disposals were the result for Turner, and he – along with Shaun Atley – played crucial games.
When Atley and Turner have good games on the same day, there are so many avenues North can use to score. This became crucial after half time when the rain came down and the match turned into a ground ball extravaganza.
If you consider the ‘starting’ forward six as Ben Brown, Jarrad Waite, Mason Wood, Jack Ziebell, Turner and Atley, there’s a handy mix and match of types to suit most conditions.
The first four are relied on more for scoreboard impact than the last two. So when Atley has a direct hand in three final quarter goals to help break the game open, it’s house money you have to take advantage of.
It’s funny how a change in role can make a player look more at ease, even though his skill set and overall statistics barely change. For years the talk was always about Atley progressing from half back to the midfield, and it eventually became apparent it wasn’t going to happen. It left Atley in a bit of unknown territory, given the expectations on him.
Yet since about halfway through last year, when Atley was moved to half forward, he’s looked right at home and instantly started contributing more to the team. Sometimes it’s all the little things which are impossible to spot on TV and don’t pop up on the stat sheet. Other times it’s what we see in Perth yesterday, and it adds extra potency to the forward mix.
It was almost like two games in one, with the first half in the (mostly) dry, and the second half in the teeming rain.
What was impressive was how quickly North adapted to the conditions, perhaps helped by the experience in Cairns. I guess compared to that, anything else is bright sunshine. But nevertheless, an immediate answer to Cam McCarthy’s goal preceded long, long periods of forward pressure and repeat stoppages.
In Cairns, North’s inability to maintain pressure around the contest – while allowing Gold Coast to get extra numbers there – eventually doomed any chances of victory.
There was to be no repeat this time, and it showed how far the side has evolved in the space of two months.
Freo barely threatened for a solid 25-30 minutes, and it was largely due to North’s midfield had prevented any easy getaway from the endless stoppages.
In his milestone game, Todd Goldstein battled Aaron Sandilands to a draw. In the bigger picture, it became a huge win for North with Fremantle unable to generate either quality territory or quantity of scoring shots from clearances.
It was apparent there was a real emphasis for Goldstein to push forward and cover as much ground as possible. It wasn’t always to be used as an option to go forward, but by providing a presence he forced Sandilands to go with him.
At ground level Jed Anderson was on a mission to hurt people with his attack on the footy and body.
These types of plays have been highlighted before on The Shinboner, but having an extra midfielder who can burst away from stoppages at pace while receiving the tap opens up so many possibilities.
Sandilands taking himself out of the game with his head clash on Sam Durdin was a boost, because structurally it threw Fremantle’s plans for a loop at a crucial time of the game.
North was able to cover the loss of Durdin, although it was clearly a help the ball barely had a sniff close to the Fremantle goal until the game was well in hand.
Ultimately it was a game which North should have won by a lot more given the chances it had at various stages, and yet there was still maturity shown to come home with the four points. The side takes another important step forward.
Now it’s onto Brisbane on Sunday at Etihad Stadium. The initial reaction is along the lines of ‘danger game’ for North’s finals chances.
As you think that, take a step back and consider whether you thought that would be the case at the start of 2018. These are fun times.