Round 11: Circle Work

It’s nice to sit through a second half when the match is well under control thanks to a first half burst.

12.9 was North’s highest first half score since 13.5 in Round 2, 2015; coincidentally also against Brisbane at Etihad Stadium.

It sets up a fascinating match next week in Geelong against the Cats for how North decides to approach the task.

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The extremely late Jarrad Waite withdrawal could quite easily have thrown everything into chaos, especially given Tom Murphy was the inclusion – a debutant and someone who plays at the other end of the ground.

Thankfully the first few minutes of feeling the structures out were helped by Brisbane not bringing any defensive pressure at all, which helped North adjust to playing a different way to what we’ve seen all year.

Because Brisbane likes to move the ball through run and carry, it naturally has a lot of numbers around the contest to begin with.

The other side of that equation is if the Lions aren’t ready to harass and pressure when they don’t have the ball, they can get cut up time and time again.

Clearly the direction from the coaches box was to use the handball to work around the initial Brisbane numbers, and then use the space to stream forward at a million miles an hour, because North’s first half handballing was at a volume we haven’t seen in almost eight years.

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Let’s zoom out and look at this way of playing in the bigger picture. North came into this weekend ranked sixth in kick to handball ratio, per HPN Footy.

The ratio against Brisbane would have been last in the competition by a long, long way. It speaks to the versatility the group is developing, because a plan was put in place for the best way to beat Brisbane, and despite it being a significant departure from the norm, the players were able to carry it out almost to perfection in the first half to go into the rooms with a 55-point lead.

Some will be frustrated at the inability to hammer home the margin in the second half, but to me it’s not too concerning. To run around in second gear for a whole half is a luxury you’ll rarely have, and the margin never dipped below 42 points at any stage. The two debutants were able to have as smooth an introduction to AFL level as you could have hoped for.

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A programming note for the next couple of weeks. For the Geelong game, we’ll have a Saturday (Five Questions) and Sunday (game review) run.

Then for the bye week there’ll be a couple more posts looking back and forward, before taking a week or so off to watch every minute of the World Cup for the bye.

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29 disposals – 13 contested – five clearances, four inside 50’s, four rebound 50’s, four marks and three tackles in 77 percent game time. They’re a fair set of numbers for anyone, let alone a debutant coming off two knee reconstructions.

It looked like Paul Ahern already had 50 games under his belt, such was his poise and composure with ball in hand. Usually all you’re hoping for in a debut is a couple of glimpses here or there, or at the very least to not look overawed by the occasion. Safe to say Ahern blew those expectations out of the water, and while there’ll be the inevitable ups and downs to come, there was enough promise there to show what he’s capable of.

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It was the same for Tom Murphy, playing across half-back and not looking out of place at all. The passage of play which stood out was his switch of play by foot halfway through the first quarter. While it was ambitious, to me it indicated two things: he knows his strengths, and he has the confidence to back those skills up.

Overall the disposal by foot looked assured, and running the game out will give Murphy further belief that he’s capable at the top level for an extended stretch down the track as he continues developing.

To again touch on the theme of looking at this through the bigger picture, it was a controlled debut for both Ahern and Murphy, flanked by experience in an environment which didn’t ask too much of them.

It was a point touched on recently as I explained why North is playing above external expectations this season. Because of the superb player availability, there is the luxury of gently easing youth into life at AFL level.

It wasn’t as if Ahern’s job was to nullify Dayne Zorko around stoppages, or Murphy had to play one out on the last line of defence. The more experienced players take those tasks, which allow the younger ones the simpler responsibilities. It helps development and builds confidence; the perfect one-two punch.

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As we head into a quieter time of the season with the bye and fewer matches per round, if there are any topics you’d like covered here on The Shinboner, feel free to leave a comment below, send through a note on Twitter @rickm18 or get in touch via email.

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So North turns at the halfway mark with a 7-4 record, already one win ahead of 2017’s result.

Geelong in Geelong is going to be intriguing for team selection and general mindset. Waite and Jed Anderson’s availability appears doubtful at this stage, with the matter of the bye complicating things.

If it gets to Thursday or Friday and they’re still battling to be a confirmed starter, is it worth the risk knowing you have a week off coming right up?

By giving them a fortnight off and setting up for a big three weeks on return from the bye, is that a better method than going all out in Geelong with players who might be sore and screaming for a break?

I am perhaps influenced by the performance the last two years leading into the bye against Adelaide (2016) and Richmond (2017). Those games screamed of bodies who needed the time off to recuperate.

Round 14, 15, and 16 are against the Western Bulldogs, Essendon and Gold Coast respectively, all at Etihad Stadium. North will start favourites in all three. Win them all, you’re at 10 wins with seven matches left and a finals berth is within touching distance.

Maybe its worth prioritising those games when you’re fresher, compared to this Saturday? It’s an interesting topic of discussion.

One thought on “Round 11: Circle Work

  1. Thanks Rick. Loving reading this stuff! Agree with everything you say and particularly enjoying the positive slant. True Shinboner approach!

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