Round 9 v Hawthorn: Problem solving

Forgive me if I’m a little bit rusty today, I looked up the manual on how to write about a North Melbourne win and it had been so long all the ink had faded out.

But in all seriousness, North could have easily faded away after falling 32 points behind early in the second quarter. The ball movement was no good, the individual defence was too loose, and Hawthorn were content to dine on mistakes all afternoon.

Using that start to re-assess, restart and then systematically solve every worrying area (except for Chad Wingard) was what made the win so pleasing to watch. Finally all the little wins turned into an actual win, and this is how it happened.

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The Start

To wildly oversimplify how Hawthorn tend to play against North and set a baseline – when North have possession, Hawthorn are content to drop extra numbers behind the ball and slow the game right up.

For example, here we have an extra two Hawks behind the ball. They sit behind and attempt to invite mistakes:

Which North played right into during the first quarter. 12 inside 50s yielded only 1.1 – the scoring shots coming from a centre clearance and a coast-to-coast kick-in before Hawthorn could get their defence set. Most of the remaining entries were long to outnumbered contests which no-one needs to see again.

Then in Hawthorn’s front half, their goals were coming from a combination of individual efforts and loose defending from North, sometimes in the same passage of play.

– Goal 1, Luke Breust: Excellent finish, exacerbated by little pressure on his run into the forward 50
– Goal 2, Chad Wingard: Excellent finish, exacerbated by no-one following his run into the forward 50
– Goal 3, Chad Wingard: Excellent finish
– Goal 4, Jacob Koschitzke: Good finish, exacerbated by Josh Walker being caught ball watching
– Goal 5, Jacob Koschitzke: He gets good delivery from Wingard, which wouldn’t have happened if Kayne Turner was properly front and centre defending Breust at the contest 70 out from goal

From a North Melbourne perspective, they were playing a large part in Hawthorn’s first quarter’s goals. It wasn’t like an action replay of the second half against Melbourne for example, where they were clicking on all cylinders and there wasn’t a lot available in the kit bag to stop them.

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For those who have missed any recaps from the last month, you can catch up here:

Round 5 v Geelong
Round 6 v Fremantle
Round 7 v Melbourne
Round 8 v Collingwood

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The First Adjustment

After Mitch Lewis’ goal to open the second quarter stretched the margin to 32 points, that’s where we saw the first hint of an adjustment from North, and it came with their inside 50 entries.

Clearly there was a recognition that Hawthorn were sitting back deep, waiting for the high, long efforts which they were dealing with easily. That meant there’d be space higher up in the 50 for the shorter, lower entries.

We started to see more of this, noting how Larkey runs right past a string of Hawks waiting for a long kick:

For those who can’t view the video, click here to watch

And again here, with the focus on short leads rather than the standard kick to the top of the square:

For those who can’t view the video, click here to watch

This change, although obviously not carried out with every entry, saw enough results on the scoreboard – 12 first quarter inside 50s for one goal became 15 for four in the second – and it allowed North to keep a foothold in the game.

We also saw the first inkling that North had the potential for a major advantage around clearances, which would then help with territory. The count was 9-8 Hawthorn’s way in the first before flipping 14-7 to North in the second.

But in the meantime, North still had enough lapses in defence – particularly transition – to allow Hawthorn to keep hitting the scoreboard. For example here, there were two stationary Roos in line with the ball against a flowing line of Hawks. Not being able to keep the ball locked in further up the field left those in the back half with an impossible task.

So there had been some progress made with the ball movement – and Hawthorn still weren’t creating much on their own – but small mistakes meant the margin stood at 22 going into half time.

The Third Quarter

Fun fact: It turns out defending is a lot easier when you’re playing the game nearly exclusively in your front half.

The midfield trio of Ben Cunnington, Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke put the team on their backs in the third quarter:

– Cunnington: 9 disposals (6 contested), 5 clearances
– Davies-Uniacke: 10 disposals (6 contested), 5 clearances
– Simpkin: 9 disposals (4 contested), 19 pressure acts

28 disposals and double figure clearances between your best three midfielders in a quarter helps dictate the tempo, and North had a huge 17-6 edge with inside 50s.

But there was another tweak and David Noble’s quote in the post-match press conference hinted at it:

“We tinkered a little bit with our forward end to make it a little bit more contested a bit higher up the ground.”

– David Noble post-match

In the clips highlighted from the second quarter, we saw the leads coming in around that 30-40 metre range. The issue with those when they are central is that it’s a terrible place to turn the ball over because you’re gifting the entire width of the ground to the opposition on the way back.

It meant North’s adjustment was to try and thread the needle between having a few more forwards higher up the ground – to make it easier to defend if there was a turnover – along with still giving forwards enough room to lead successfully.

It’s a tricky one to illustrate accurately given it’s a whole forward half type of operation, but perhaps the best available example is this stoppage. It’s only about 70 out from goal but three forwards are right up on the 50, with leading lanes behind them for the rest.

A clean stoppage win allows Cunnington the time to pick out Campbell, but even if the ball went to ground North had the numbers around to keep the ball locked in.

For those who can’t view the video, click here to watch

With the leg up of contested dominance, North essentially tweaked their forward setup to allow an easier defensive method, knowing it would make scoring a little tougher. None of the four third quarter goals were what you’d term pretty – although I am partial to LDU’s shake and snap – yet because both the midfield and defence was in order, it was still back to a one-point game with a quarter to play.

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Every Monday night there’s a new edition of From The Notebook, which is me musing about topics from the weekend I found interesting. If you’ve missed any of the previous editions, you can catch up by clicking here and scrolling through the season so far:

From The Notebook, 2021 (and 2020)

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The Finish

From a first quarter situation where the ball movement was playing into Hawthorn’s hands, and errors were allowing the Hawks to hit the scoreboard regularly, both those issues had been all but ironed out.

The question was whether the method would hold up to finish the game, but one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was how the Hawthorn defenders would hold up under pressure.

Free kicks galore came to the forwards – Hartigan had the slightest of holds on Larkey, Frost bumped Zurhaar way too early, and Hartley dragged Garner down. By this time in the game North’s improvement in their forward setup left a lot more one-on-ones than earlier in the afternoon, and the Hawks panicked.

After Tarryn Thomas’ goal gave North an 11-point lead with 7:26 to go, understandably they dialled down the ball movement a gear or two. Most teams may have kept attacking for a little longer, but it’s hard to be picky in this case given recent results and how important a win is for morale.

But again, because North had their foundation in place and the confidence of it working well after quarter time, they were able to continue to play the game on their own terms.

Hawthorn, chasing the game, only had three inside 50s the rest of the way. The first pinballed right out, the second resulted in a goal after the Hawks threw all caution to the wind from a kick-in … which left one more entry in a six-point game with a little more than a minute to go:

For those who can’t view the video, click here to watch

It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say both O’Brien and Koschitzke had the best play on the ball, but Lachie Young did enough to stop them while running back with the flight.

The easy thing for Young to do would be back Ben McKay and Todd Goldstein in. The easy thing to do would have been sit front and centre. But sometimes, for all the analysis, structures and the like, it’s just your time to go. And go Young did, thwarting Hawthorn’s final forward foray.

Wins – it’s much more fun writing about them than losses.

8 thoughts on “Round 9 v Hawthorn: Problem solving

  1. A great response after the first quarter then it all clicked in the third, Cunnington, Jy & LDU stood up & took the game on, great coaching moves by Noble and the team. Winning feels so good after so long,

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