Round 13 v GWS: Steps forward, points lost

A largely uneventful afternoon at Hobart, only featuring North Melbourne jumping out to a five-goal lead at three quarter time, getting reeled back in, plenty of notable talking points from siren to siren and it all ending with North’s first draw since Round 16, 2009…

Maybe there’s a fair bit to talk about.

Given the sheer number of topics which deserve to be touched on today, instead of a coherent theme from start to finish we’ll jump around in sections.

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The value of contested marks

In the mid-season review piece, I spent some time talking about the value of finding key forwards who can consistently take contested marks.

We’re a long way from being able to tell whether Tristan Xerri is that man week in, week out. But in his return match, he showed exactly how North having a contested aerial presence in the forward setup makes the game so much easier for them.

Early in the third quarter, North were under significant amounts of pressure. They were in a stretch where they’d conceded seven of the last eight inside 50s, and were more or less completely pinned in their defensive half. There had been no chance to settle down, regain composure and come to terms with what the Giants were offering.

Then Trent Dumont’s pressured kick to a pack on the wing provided the perfect opportunity for Xerri to fly and mark:

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

Getting a pack mark like that further up the field allowed North a chance to reset and push higher up the ground. It’s an incredibly valuable skill and while it’s a little disingenuous to draw a direct line between Xerri’s mark and the distinct change in momentum – other factors are always at play – it’s not a coincidence that North kicked their next two goals in two minutes after the mark and getting a chance to draw breath.

It’s a glimpse of how things can work in the future.

Aaron Hall

Hall being on the receiving end of the Matt de Boer match up was a sign of his recent form, and the growing respect for his output off half back. Whether it was the right move from a GWS point of view is a whole other discussion, but nevertheless to collect 35 disposals and 791 metres gained is still impressive even after allowing for kick out inflation.

The defensive ability – not effort, which is an important distinction to make – is always going to be the question mark, and how that balances against what Hall brings offensively.

Although he was caught ball watching for one of the Giants last quarter goals, he also had an excellent chase down spoil and chase down tackle earlier on in the afternoon.

As long as the overall package is a net positive, that’s all you can ask for. It’s probably not a stretch to call these last six matches his best stretch for that long at AFL level. As usual for anyone though, the challenge is to maintain it.

Jack Mahony

After the Geelong game, I said the following about Mahony (added emphasis mine … to my own words, if that’s possible):

“For Mahony it looks like his disposal has to be the element which sets him apart, coupled with an ability to cover the ground and be in the right places more often than not.

In the latter two categories, both the eye test and the AFL’s tracking data suggests Mahony has the potential to do so.”

There was some really nice signs for Mahony against the Giants, limited time on ground (69 percent) not preventing him from impacting with both disposal and smarts around the ball. A very smart toe poke and handball out to space for the chain which led to Tarryn Thomas’ goal:

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

And then by my count, a five-effort sequence in a matter of moments to help cause a turnover:

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

It’s probably not a coincidence Mahony turned in arguably his best game of the season the week after a bye; a reminder of how the weekly grind of a season can wear down those without a few years in the system. These are the types of efforts which can make him a valuable part of the side if he can continue on this path.

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

Round 9 v Hawthorn
Round 10 v Essendon
Round 11 v St Kilda
What was learned in the first half-season

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Centre bounce starters

A minor note in the overall scheme of things, but a refreshing show of commitment to giving younger players the reps needed to build on-ball experience.

Just after North had got on top in the third quarter, the ball went back to the centre. Given the game state it would have been unsurprising – and I’d go as far as to say completely expected – to see the first choice midfielders surrounding Todd Goldstein.

Not so:

That’s Tom Powell, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tarryn Thomas, all while Ben Cunnington’s starting position was a deep forward.

This is the sort of thing that pays off down the road when positional moves are required to either change or rejuvenate a game. Extremely promising to see when the easy option would have been to do the complete opposite.

Robbie Tarrant

I can’t imagine how terrifying it is to be a fit and seemingly healthy 31-year-old, and then suddenly going under the knife so a tumour can be removed from your kidney.

All the on-field things to figure out – working off the rustiness, working on the understanding with Ben McKay – that can wait for another day. It’s just good to see Tarrant healthy and out there again.

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

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If you’ve missed any of the previous editions of Monday’s Notebook, 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 last couple of minutes

Funnily enough given the end result, the overall defence in the last quarter wasn’t too bad until the dying stages.

Aside from the Hall moment mentioned above, the early GWS goals were a combination of skill – Josh Kelly beating Simpkin and slotting a 10/10 difficulty kick, Himmelberg reading the drop before anyone else – and luck – the ball bouncing into Himmelberg’s hands at the top of the square. Obviously frustrating but nothing too bad from a system point of view, and North were still getting their fair share of forward 50 entries.

Where the focus should be is on the last few minutes. As much as it would have been nice to see North escape with a well-deserved win, by the end of it they were lucky to draw and it should result in a nice learning process.

It’s because for the first time this year, North were forced to cope with a team which had turned the offensive dial up to 11, repeatedly rolling the dice. GWS pushed it to the limit for really as long as possible, to a point where a more experienced team would have been able to adjust and turn the attacking mindset into a weakness.

(Side note: This is also why the calls for ‘why doesn’t a team play like that all the time?!?!’ don’t make sense. It’s not physically possible to play this way for four quarters)

There was this:

North’s structure around the ball carrier is too narrow given the situation, knowing the Giants would be setting up as centrally as possible forward of the ball, taking a risk which paid off.

Then there was a complete communication breakdown allowing Flynn to hand off to Lloyd:

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

The easy person to point to is Thomas, but it’s important to highlight it as a team failure, not individual. Thomas already has Kelly as a responsibility, while there’s no help for him on either side of Flynn to cut down the space for Lloyd’s shot.

The Giants also ran the exact same set play at the final two centre bounces, which North were too slow to react to:

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

In overly simplified terms as you look it from the broadcast view:

– Top right midfielder runs diagonally to bottom left
– Top left midfielder stays out of the play to help create space
– Bottom centre midfielder either blocks or creates space

Much like the earlier error, it’s important to again emphasise this as a team issue, not any individual.

Given the circumstances, there had to be an expectation from North that the Giants would be coming out all guns blazing from the set play. Instead – possibly because of the lack of experience in dealing with it this year – they weren’t ready for it as a collective.

Then a few unpaid throws later, North were lucky to escape with a draw after Lloyd missed everything from a flying shot with seconds to go.

There’s a lot here to work with and most importantly, work on. It’s a year of processes, which makes all these experiences useful in the long run.

Judging by how North have responded and implemented changes to most challenges this year, I’d expect a much improved reaction the next time they’re in this situation.

One last thing

How much longer is it going to be before there’s a widespread recognition and general acceptance/narrative that the acts Shane Mumford regularly commits on a football field are dangerous, going far beyond the pale of ‘toughness’ and ‘intimidation’?

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