When diving back into North Melbourne’s 2013 to figure out what happened, there’s no better place to start than a game which spawned the absolute height of AFL comedy.
Before we get to Round 2, some quick background. The season opener saw North fall to Collingwood by 16 points, cutting a six-goal final quarter deficit to just 10 points in the dying stages but falling short of completing the comeback.
While obviously disappointing, it wasn’t necessarily seen as a heartbreaking defeat given Collingwood’s quality and a generally even contest before the Pies slowly pulled away. Extra historical footnote: This was the game where Lindsay Thomas’ bump on Ben Reid caused another rule change.
But the following Sunday against Geelong…
If you missed the introduction for why there’s suddenly a post about North Melbourne’s 2013 season, you can catch up here. You can also subscribe to The Shinboner via email on your right (on desktop) or below this post (on mobile).
When this game is brought up, the focus tends to be on Geelong’s late goal, the rain with an open roof, and Brad Scott’s post-match tirade. We’ll be going through precisely none of those three things.
Instead the focus is the first three quarters and specifically ball movement, because that’s what matters most in the bigger picture.
First, the good – a 12-goal first half; the most points conceded by Geelong in a first half for all of 2013. In the seven years since, the Cats have never conceded more points before half time.
North clearly had a method for how to use the ball. The simplest way to describe it is almost like a 2018-19 West Coast game on 1.5x speed, combined with more corridor use.
When ball movement based around kicking and marking succeeds, the best part about it is that you’re in complete control of tempo. Want to go quicker? By all means. Want to go slower? That can be done as well.
North put it together perfectly in the first half. This passage of play from a kick-out featured 10 kicks, went from side, to side, into the middle, wider again, ended in a mark inside 50 and the whole time there were exactly zero chances for Geelong to gain possession.
Then there’s the same mindset but with more speed in play. This example is slightly messier than the first example but focus on the process.
It’s about moving the defence from one side to the other, this time as quick as possible. As soon as there’s an opening, it’s taken – first with the kick to Petrie on the wing, followed by his look inboard to Cunnington.
From there Geelong are scrambling to reset and it’s the running by Anthony, who recognises the space, which sees him finish off the chain with a goal.
This is how kick-mark can be moulded into whatever suits at the time. North had a 41-point lead late in the second quarter.
You can subscribe to The Shinboner via email on your right (on desktop) or below this post (on mobile). If you’re on Twitter you can follow me @rickm18 and to share this post on social media, you can use any of the buttons at the bottom of this post.
While most minds drift to the late Geelong free and Bartel goal, what’s most important in the bigger picture is the third quarter.
By the time it finished North’s lead had shrunk to only nine points, which meant the last quarter started from essentially a 50-50 position.
In the third quarter, there were two periods of Geelong momentum. The first yielded four consecutive goals, but North responded well with three of their own to keep the margin at 26 points with under six minutes remaining.
Maintain a margin in the same vicinity, and the final quarter is played with a completely different mindset. But we never get to see what that would have looked like because Geelong kick three quick goals which were all completely avoidable from a North point of view.
Firstly, the wrong decision is taken to honour the corridor lead. Especially when you can see Geelong have set up to protect the middle and there’s the room to orchestrate a switch, let alone set up for a simple down the line ball. End result: turnover, goal.
Next, this turnover where the combination of a poor kick and bad bounce allows Geelong to coast – and I do mean coast, with very little pressure – down the other end for another goal.
And finally, Mathew Stokes has all day, and then another day, to spot Mitch Duncan inside 50 right on the three quarter time siren. It’s a tremendous kick, but there’s no way North should allow the target to be hit.
In the blink of an eye a lead is all but gone, all through avoidable errors. This is why the phrase ‘easy fixes’ came up so often. It’s a punchline amongst North supporters now but it’s, dare I say, easy to see where it started.
If a simple option is taken instead of attempting to thread the needle in the corridor, if a kick is a metre closer to the player running into the ball’s path, if an opposition player isn’t allowed to waltz into the forward 50 unopposed. All these simple things happen and it’s a completely different ball game with North heavily favoured to win.
There’s a first trend for the season established here. There’s plenty of good – remember Geelong won 18 games in the home and away season, half by more than 40 points – but avoidable lapses doomed North.
Next in the series: Round 3 against Sydney; a game where winning three out of four quarters led to a 39-point loss