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Round 5 v Western Bulldogs: Groundhog Day

Could have been better, could have been worse, in the end the scoreboard felt like an accurate reflection of the gap between both sides.

Maybe not the most exciting start to a post in history, but it just about sums everything up.

Today’s going to zero in on one topic – the uncontested game. It’s a common theme when it comes to matches between North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, but so rarely do we get two complete opposite quarters – one directly after the other – to illustrate several key points.

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There are four different tiers. It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. A huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up so far, it’ll allow me to do much more this season.

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There are two types of uncontested possessions. On one hand, a team can use it in a defensive method, flipping the ball around but not moving through dangerous spaces or threatening a defensive setup. Perfect example – Port Adelaide’s efforts against Melbourne.

Then there is the second type, where a team cuts their opposition apart if allowed to chain a string of possessions. Perfect example – the Bulldogs whenever they’re able to get their preferred style going.

In the first quarter, North Melbourne were -45 in uncontested possessions – the second type. It’s an astronomically high number and the Bulldogs were able to kick it around at will, slicing from end to end way too easily.

Let’s run through a couple of first quarter clips to explain. We start with the passage of play which led to Aaron Naughton’s second goal, halfway through the term. It’s about 50 seconds of game time, so we’ll go over it at double speed except for the key moments.

From start to Naughton’s mark, by my count there are 13 consecutive Bulldogs possessions, and two common North themes – wonky decision making, and not instantly knowing their responsibilities. They both work hand in hand, but the end result is the same – Roos at sea, Bulldogs lining up.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

This second clip ends in a Ben McKay intercept mark, but everything up until that point is intuitive for how North should be defending, compared to what they actually did.

Part of defending is putting yourself in threatening areas, in turn making sure your opponents have to use lower percentage areas of the ground.

For example, if the Bulldogs want to chip 15 metres at a time walking a tightrope around the boundary line, that’s more preferable for North than getting into the middle and spreading from there.

In his post-match press conference, David Noble talked about how his quarter time message was to protect the corridor more, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this clip was front of mind while he talked.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

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For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here are links to catch up with – and share around.

Friday 15th: What To Watch For: Round 5
Thursday 14th: Why Good Friday is so important for North Melbourne
Monday 11th: From The Notebook: Round 4
Sunday 10th: North’s Round 4 Review
Friday 8th: What To Watch For: Round 4

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The messages at quarter time clearly sunk in because the desired response happened after the break.

(Whether you see that as a positive – players are listening – or a negative – why can’t they do this from the start – depends on if you’re a glass half full or half empty person. For the record I see it as a positive.)

Back-to-back plays in the second quarter are the best way to illustrate North’s general defensive improvement.

First we go to a Bulldogs kick-in. Although there’s distance to it, at least North have forced it to one side of the ground, and out of the corridor.

From there, although Jason Horne-Francis’ efforts are the eye-catcher, what’s equally important is the work off ball.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

At the ensuing stoppage, the Bulldogs win possession – but again the easy option, readily available in the first quarter, isn’t there this time.

The difference between quarters is night and day. Although it can be frustrating to see this type of whiplash in the same game, the fact North can have these types of passages is progress.

Fun fact, even if it’s a completely arbitrary number: in 2021, North played 11 games against eventual finalists and only managed five goals in a quarter on four occasions.

They’ve done it (against likely finalists) in back to back weeks this year. Small steps, baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

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The post-match reaction was strong online, which is understandable given the scoreboard. It does feel like patience is running thin in certain fan quarters, but to use a cliché in speaking with those people, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

(For the record, the darkest part came a fortnight ago. The Bulldogs game isn’t comparable to Brisbane)

There’ll also be the cheap stories about Good Friday, because apparently that’s a narrative people have decided on running with in the absence of working to educate the masses.

In the meantime, I’d hope for patience in the outer. Things are better than they were, but that doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and rainbows just yet. Still a ways to go.

Until next time. Which will be a mid-week VFL post.

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