As a teenager, I spent plenty of winter Saturday afternoons at Vermont Reserve, watching the Eagles kick goal after goal and notch win after win.
The common thread through it all, which even 13 to 16-year-old me could understand as he had the time of his life watching Matt Greig pick which defender’s shoulders he wanted to jump on, was how Vermont were several classes above most teams they played. It was barely a fair contest.
And when the day was done, the usual post-match kick to kick finished, I’d grab my bike and wheel it past the clubrooms, ready to hop on and ride home. Without fail, there’d be one or two guys from the opposition contingent – usually fans, but occasionally players – lingering while talking on the phone.
Conversations to the other end of the line usually followed a similar script:
‘We lost by <insert large margin>’
‘We kicked <insert number less than eight> goals’
‘We had <insert number less than five> good players’
I always wondered what these hopelessly outmatched teams could possibly gain from playing against a juggernaut like Vermont, and how defeated they probably felt before the game even started.
But at club level you’re conditioned to expect these types of mismatches more often than not, given the difference in resources and consistency of quality. It makes things a touch easier to rationalise, and deal with the consequences from a motivation point of view.
Watching North Melbourne struggle through another heavy loss on Friday night, those times kept flashing into my mind and I thought…
What happens when the same wild disparities present at AFL level?
While the North match reviews are free for all in 2022, the Shinboner Patreon is still up and running all the way through to October 31.
When I started the Patreon I thought there’d be more positives to discuss, but nevertheless there are four different tiers in it.
It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. As usual, a huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around.
Once upon a time, when things were slightly better for North on the win-loss ledger, a main theme on here used to be how important it was to see rewards for work put in.
Words are great to try and reinforce patterns and behaviours, and they have the desired effect sometimes. Ultimately, they can only go so far.
At some point, without tangible evidence of at least the slightest progress, things will splinter. There’s a famous quote which I learned from the San Antonio Spurs, but others may know from elsewhere. It’s called ‘The Stonecutter’s Credo’, by Jacob Riis:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
The meaning is clear: put in the work, results will eventually come. When it comes to North though, the current feeling is being 500 blows in, looking at the rock, seeing it’s still getting bigger and past the size of Everest.
My worry is how to keep players believing during this stretch, coming up against teams on a different level week after week. The average losing margin over the last six weeks has been 62.5 points, and that’s including the close one against Sydney.
There are still three more weeks to go in this murderers row before the draw begins to open up. So far in this stretch North is conceding nearly 120 points per game, not too far off expansion levels of leakiness.
It’s easy to claim players have no excuse for a dip in their output; ‘they’re highly paid’, ‘they’re doing something I’d kill to do’, ‘they should focus on football more’, and all those sorts of base level arguments which are the domain of the ignorant.
It all ignores basic human function. If you keep getting beaten down, few have the capability to make it through and the potential of many more is wasted.
For those who have missed any posts/podcast appearances over the last week or so, here are links to catch up with:
Friday night was not rock bottom for North, instead more a confirmation of current standing.
Much like those Saturday afternoons at Vermont, they were the outmatched opponent clutching at any small positive while dealing with a rampaging home side.
Luckily Fremantle’s offence isn’t on the same level as their defence and North had Ben McKay for two and a half quarters, otherwise the scoreboard would have looked much worse than the 78-point difference it ended on. 67 inside 50s to 32 tell the real story.
Once the Dockers had the clamps on to stop North moving out of their back half, it was easy to spot heads dropping.
To return to amateur psychology 101, the fear of failure clearly inhibited North. It was like the walls were slowly closing in, only those walls were actually purple jumpers.
As a consequence the ball use became panicked, movement slowed, and they were sitting ducks for such a well drilled outfit.
Positives were few and far between, but the conclusion to take away in these times should be this:
As blunt as it sounds, there are obviously placeholders in North’s current outfit.
While in the current doldrums, what’s most vital for North’s future is making sure the long-termers are correctly nurtured and protected.
There has to be consistency in roles, consistency in responsibilities and clarity in what’s expected.
While some will be success stories regardless of what’s thrown at them – for instance Jason Horne-Francis is a joy to watch and I hope his current want and will never diminishes – not everyone has the same personality type.
The last thing North want to do is waste their scorched earth approach by turning into early 2010’s Melbourne and failing to develop the next generation, eventually being forced to start again without anything to show for it.
If you’ve missed it, we’re at the part of 2022 where Patron-exclusive pages will start to have extra features added. A reminder:
- For those on the $7.50 Patreon tier (or above), there’s exclusive access to the Stat Suite page, with rolling monthly stat rankings updated weekly
- For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have exclusive access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite – the next added feature will be about contracts and is only a couple of weeks away