Round 12: In a foreign land

If you ever wondered how opposition sides feel when they come down to play in Hobart, Saturday provided plenty of insight.

Much like how North is at least a five goal better side at Blundstone Arena, Geelong has a similar advantage in Geelong. While its debatable how much it assists in winning on the MCG in late September, it does put you in the position to get there time and time again.

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Here’s a thought process I want to touch on when considering the game as a whole, and also a point which really helps break down worthy opinions. This is a line from one of my favourite basketball writers – bolded emphasis mine – Ben Falk of Cleaning The Glass:

“Narrative is fun. And it is sometimes true. But it is sometimes misleading. It’s a must to try to distinguish when narrative actually reflects truth and when it’s just a story.

For example: when a side causes an upset, is it because they were simply ‘due for a win’ as the narrative suggests? Or was there something below the surface you had to work to see?

The narratives along the lines of ‘North always loses before the bye’ and ‘North isn’t that good anyway’ trend towards just being a story. Instead, for the rest of the season, let’s keep these two facts in mind when watching North:

Performances will go as far as pressure around the ball allows it to, and if the midfield is missing anyone or has a couple short on form, results will be a struggle.

It’s not exactly headline grabbing or a topic which creates plenty of discussion, but it’s the truth. Four of the five losses this season – excluding Richmond from the conversation – can be traced back to one of these two things.

  • Gold Coast & Melbourne: Midfield weren’t able to get to enough contests to apply enough pressure and stop the opposition spreading away
  • Port Adelaide: Shaun Higgins was missing, which exposed the lack of ready-made replacements

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And now Geelong, where the absence of Jed Anderson was keenly felt. I’m incredibly happy for Anderson that he’s become an integral cog of the midfield in such a short period of time. You could see his abilities missed – plus the domino effect it caused – on a day where North was one midfielder short of challenging for four points.

With Ben Jacobs shutting Joel Selwood out of the game, both sets of coaches were seemingly happy to let Shaun Higgins and Gary Ablett go head to head. It’s one of those situations where the winning team gets praised and the losing team gets heckled, even though the duo just about cancelled each other out. They’ll split the three and two votes on Brownlow night, no doubt.

However, if Anderson was available, it’s all but certain he would have been handed responsibilities for limiting Ablett at stoppages, along with bringing the physicality. Then, Geelong would likely have had to invest more time in Higgins, further limiting their midfield’s ability to win the ball and drive forward.

All this happened because of one player’s absence. It illustrates why Brad Scott repeatedly talks about having to ‘build a midfield’, and why player availability has been so important to this 7-5 start.

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As for the ball use going into the forward half … this is where Geelong’s home ground advantage really came into play.

I thought Garry Lyon and Nick Riewoldt offered the perfect explanation on how the Cats can defend the ground so well. Firstly they managed to keep Dwayne Russell quiet for 20 seconds, which is a miracle in itself. And then:

Garry Lyon: “You look down the line here, you see this defence just set themselves up beautifully. They don’t get under each other’s nose, they space themselves out. Look at that down the line, good luck finding your way through.”

Nick Riewoldt: “The trouble on this ground is – if you switch the footy – it’s so narrow, the actual distance for the players down the line to cover to have you outnumbered on the other side of the ground, it’s not big.”

Lyon: “Therein lies a bit of the secret. They’re (the Cats) prepared to go heavy down the line, because they think they can get to the other side in time once they (the opposition) do switch.”

Riewoldt: “Which is a method that will work here, but not necessarily the MCG.”

Putting a North slant on the explanation, it’s why I wouldn’t be too worried with the results of the ball movement, because it’s not as if a game style has to be proven on this ground to taste ultimate success.

(Am I going to have egg on my face when North gets drawn to play a final down there at some stage. Oh boy.)

The process was perfectly acceptable, yielding 51 inside 50’s, North’s fifth highest tally of the season. The ball was delivered in there by the players who are capable of hitting targets – Higgins, Jy Simpkin, Mason Wood and Jamie Macmillan accounted for almost half the tally.

It was the room close to goal – or to be more accurate, lack of room – which proved the difference. It allowed the defensive unit of Mark Blicavs, Jack Henry, Tom Stewart and company to clog North’s forward 50 and ensure those 51 entries only resulted in eight goals plus a number of difficult shots.

The result doesn’t mean it’s time to run towards the panic stations, or change any big picture thinking. It’s merely a confirmation of what we already knew about the team.

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During the week I’ll be back to revisit the pre-season depth chart and check out how things have changed. Depending on any news there may be another post or two before taking a week off and returning for the build to Western Bulldogs on Saturday week. Until then, you can find me on Twitter @rickm18.

2 thoughts on “Round 12: In a foreign land

  1. Great article once again. Adding to your comments I would say scoreboard pressure is also paramount and Mason Wood had 3 or 4 very gettable shots on goal. Had these been converted – particularly in the 1st quarter – we might not have been chasing for the remainder of the game.
    The other was the ease of rebound once we turned the ball over. They seemed to have players streaming into their forward 50 while we were metres behind. This set up very easy goals for them.
    I would be curious on your opinion of Majak. I’m not entirely convinced he is an asset. Once E Vickers-Willis is available, surely we can’t play both?

    1. I guess unfortunately for Ed, there won’t be that dilemma for a while because of the injury. I think you can play both, but it lessens the margin for error because it makes the back unit very tall when they’re in there with Tarrant and Thompson. If further up the field is even slightly off in its pressure, there won’t be the foot speed to cover it in the defensive 50.

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