It’s a horrible feeling when you’re in a job you value, and you feel like it’s about to end badly.
Some people reading this will have experienced it, and I hope everyone who hasn’t never suffers the same fate.
From the outside looking in, it seemed as if Tuesday was the inevitable end game for David Noble’s tenure as coach of North Melbourne. He’d undoubtedly have felt the walls closing in and wondered whether it had been worth taking such a sharp turn in his career path.
Considering the improvement in the back half of 2021, before this season started I’d have given long odds on Noble failing to see out 2022.
But as we sit here after Round 17, the choice made by the powerbrokers is logical. Which leaves the query of how we got here…
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In recent weeks, a handful of people asked whether I thought David Noble should stay or go as coach of North Melbourne.
My response has always been the same: unless a coach has done real-life heinous things, I’ll never be a person who advocates for them to lose a job. To sit in the cheap seats and call for that means blowing up a career while not considering the collateral damage to their families and colleagues, some of whom will naturally be under the pump as a new coach comes in with their own preferences.
What I’ll do is stick to my strength and focus on the on-field happenings.
Heading into 2022, I believed this would be a year to build on what we saw late last year, and consolidate certain areas of the field. The pre-season checklist explained as much.
Instead, it quickly became obvious that somehow, somewhere, something broke over the summer.
The story of how that happened is one for journalists with sources. As a result, the on-field product was a muddled, disjointed game style which bore little resemblance to 2021’s positive moments.
In sifting through opinions from the general, non-North supporting public before sitting down to write this, there appeared to be a consensus the players were exclusively to blame. For, to run it through a PG filter, ‘not being good enough’.
And it’s true that on pure talent alone, the current list isn’t anywhere near finals standard given its lack of experience and maturity.
But the job of a coaching staff is to put those players in the best possible position to succeed, maximising strengths and minimising weaknesses. That wasn’t happening.
The general public isn’t going to know that because not only are North off-Broadway, they’re off-stage completely at this point, only useful to neutrals when there’s an opportunity to swing hammers at heads.
For those who have missed any posts or podcast appearances over the last week, here’s where to catch up:
Monday 11th: From The Notebook, Round 17: Adelaide’s style, Richmond’s meltdown and what to take out of two key games
Sunday 10th: North’s Round 17 Review
Friday 8th: What To Watch For: Round 17
Wednesday 6th: What total minutes played by age says about a list profile
Tuesday 5th: The Hashtag Kangaroos Podcast
Those who trudged through the weekly North match reviews knew what was happening.
(Thanks for doing that too, a picture of your face is next to ‘dedication’ in the dictionary)
There was starting the season with an untried forward structure, the game which prompted the now-infamous spray, the inability to defend uncontested ball, forward structure asking too much of too few, setting up in a way which allowed key opposition players to run amok, midfield structures falling apart, followed by much the same across the full ground, before it all collapsed in a heap against Geelong.
Nearly every week there was something going wrong structurally, which spoke to a disconnect between what the coaches wanted and what the players were capable of.
The game style showed no signs of progression, and instructions on how to move the ball were particularly concerning. North weren’t set up to play in a way which challenges teams in the current AFL landscape, a fact made all the more painfully evident by how they troubled Collingwood last Saturday.
It was a complete 180 on how they’d set up all year. While we’ll probably never find out what caused the change, in a way it may have actually made the decision easier for those at the top.
There is burgeoning talent on this team, although if anyone from the AFL is reading this it definitely won’t reach its peak without a priority pick this year.
What the playing list needed from the coaches was a functional, modern style because with only a few notable exceptions, effort rarely wavered. It was the process behind it which stopped North from growing and progressing as a team.
It came down to a simple question: could Noble turn the ship around and implement a cohesive style, or was it too far gone?
Ultimately North settled on the latter.
If you’ve missed it, new features continue to be added to the Patreon-exclusive pages. 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. Soon there’ll be rolling quarter by quarter rankings added in
– For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite. The club comparisons for minutes played have recently made their way there
With one chapter finished, what happens in the next six weeks?
Leigh Adams has been given the reins as caretaker. Although I must confess to being surprised with that on first glance, it makes sense the more I look at it.
Having Adams move from VFL head coach to AFL head coach allows for the least amount of disruption in individual roles. Line coaches can continue working with their respective groups, building relationships and continuity.
Adams can import his instructions over with minimal fuss. I’d expect to see a continued focus on improved ball movement along the lines of what was on show against Collingwood. It’s an area Adams has a solid track record in, dating all the way back to his time at South Croydon.
The added experience should also turbocharge Adams’ CV and provide a great progress update for where he’s at as a coach. Then he can take those lessons into 2023, given he’s a valuable resource – and assuming he’ll want to stick around under the new head coach.
From an individual player perspective the first priority should be to collate as much info as possible on those out of contract, ensuring any decisions on their future are made from a solid base.
Most are known quantities, but the quartet I’d focus on is Atu Bosenavulagi, Kyron Hayden, Matt McGuinness and Patrick Walker. What can they be as players? How is their growth tracking? Will they surpass teammates who play similar positions?
When there’s change – and the potential of more to come – important items can slip under the radar the cracks. It’s vital those who remain on a solid ground do all they can to make sure players don’t slip through the cracks.
Because the elephant in the room is Geoff Walsh’s review: not only what it covers – but what it will recommend. I’d be stunned if that ends with ‘everything else is fine, let’s keep going as is’.