It’s that time of year again – plan the away trips, block out the days in the calendar – the 2019 fixture is here.
Here’s 22 thoughts on the 22-game slate:
1. Fremantle away is an extremely tough start, especially after the wizardry Peter Bell pulled in the trade period. The Dockers will be much improved – and they were already good at home in 2018. Conditions, venue, opponent – an early litmus test for North Melbourne.
2. Only one MCG game – Hawthorn in Round 3 – is disappointing, but seemingly unavoidable these days. You have to go back to 2010 for the last season North had more than two non-finals games at the ground.
3. However – much like Round 1 – an early game on the bigger MCG should be a real eye-opener for how the extra run in the midfield can be utilised. We all know how Collingwood ripped North to shreds late in 2018 with the spread away from stoppages.
4. Four consecutive games on Channel Seven from Round 3 through 6 is an excellent chance to help shape public perception of the side. Hawthorn, Adelaide, Essendon and Port Adelaide – win the majority of those and things will pick up.
5. Back-to-back six-day breaks heading into Good Friday isn’t an ideal preparation, but it is mitigated by no travel. Overall it’s probably better than playing in a monsoon in Cairns.
6. Forgive me for this brief trip to Cynical Town, but it’s hard not to look suspiciously at the AFL for scheduling a second game on Good Friday. Suddenly it’s ok to schedule two games on a day they were dead against for so long? As much as it makes me uneasy to talk about a day like Good Friday from a marketing + dollars & cents perspective, North does everything possible to own the day and then after two years it’s fine to dilute it with an extra game in the evening.
7. If ever there was a prime opportunity to end this Adelaide Oval hoodoo, it’s set up perfectly against Port Adelaide in Round 6 on Friday night. Snap two losing streaks at once by beating the Power for the first time in five attempts.
8. The first game of the year at Blundstone Arena is in Round 9 against Sydney. Excluding 2014 because of the redevelopment, it’s the latest start to a year for North in Hobart.
9. North’s only game against the Western Bulldogs is in Round 10, which I’m disappointed about. It’s the first time since 2015 the sides won’t play each other twice, and puts a dint in one of my favourite rivalries. The games are always close, and there’s genuine feeling in all of them.
10. Round 12 against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium is the biggest trap game of recent memory. Coming off a home Friday night game against Richmond, it’s then an eight-day break, a trip up north and a Saturday night on the Gold Coast before another eight-day break. I’m already nervous just thinking about it.
11. Collingwood in Round 15 coming out of the week off is a tough test. Especially because the Pies will have already had their bye, plus one game back to get back into the swing of things.
12. The first double up of the year comes against Essendon in Round 17, in an away game with probably about five rows of seating left for general admission. It’s not fully ticketed though so it’s alright.
13. North also faces Brisbane for a second time (Round 18), Hawthorn (Round 20), Geelong (Round 21) and Port Adelaide (Round 22)
14. As I look at in November, it appears to be a tough set. Brisbane will significantly improve, Port has the wood over North, Hawthorn and Geelong will be finals contenders until the end of time and Essendon – as much as it pains me to say it – will be good in 2019.
15. The Round 18-19-20 stretch is North’s toughest of the year. A Saturday night game at the Gabba in Round 18 means they probably won’t get home until mid-afternoon on the Sunday. Round 19 is a Saturday twilight match at Optus Stadium, requiring either a Saturday night red-eye or Sunday morning flight home. Either way your Sunday is wiped out. And then Round 20 is a Friday night home encounter against Hawthorn. Tough.
16. The double travel in Round 18 and 19 is part of five non-Tasmanian trips: Perth twice, Queensland twice and Adelaide once.
17. It’s on par with most Victorian clubs. As a comparison, Collingwood has five trips, Richmond has five and Essendon has six.
18. There aren’t any games to pencil in as wins over the last seven weeks. Essendon, Brisbane away, West Coast away, Hawthorn, Geelong away, Port Adelaide and Melbourne in Tasmania.
19. Given the way the last three seasons have fared in the home stretch, it’ll be intriguing to see how 2019 plays out; will players be managed often earlier in the year to remain fresh?
20. A vagary of the fixture: by the time North faces Melbourne in Round 23, it’ll be around 500 days since the sides last met.
21. Good luck to the membership team deciding which four out of five games in Melbourne will be replacements. Ideally the MCG clash in Round 3 is a replacement one and Essendon in Round 17 isn’t, simply because of the ticketing and seating arrangements.
22. Overall it looks like a fair fixture. There are soft spots, tough spots, prime time fixtures, Sunday games and a mix of everything. To finish on the biggest cliché of all, if North is good enough, it’ll mean a finals spot in 2019.