Sometimes these match analysis pieces jump around from topic to topic, and sometimes they go in-depth on multiple topics.
Today’s post will be hyper-specific, narrowing in on one thing – the domino effect when a team struggles in one area of the game.
It’s important to emphasise none of the below is meant as panic stations for the team, or a sign that individuals are struggling. The post is simply meant as a ‘this is what happens when…’
The reason for this delayed post is a road trip to and back from Adelaide to watch this game, while also soaking in as much as possible of Gather Round.
For anyone who was sitting on the fence about going and opted not to, don’t make the same mistake next year. The atmosphere and vibes around the city were top notch from the snippets that I experienced, and Mount Barker itself was an excellent ground with a pristine surface.
You’d assume next year will be better again and it’ll be well worth the trip.
Let’s start with a flashback to Round 2 against Fremantle:
On that night, the defence looked great. Well, except for the last few minutes of chaos, but I digress. Overall you could see although there was risk involved, the reward was worth it when everything clicked.
Push up when in possession, which in turn condenses the ground without possession, create turnovers to get the ball back, game is on your terms. Simple in theory.
But when a team is trying to defend this way and either not using the ball well or getting beaten at contests, they’re drawing dead.
Against Brisbane, North was in the unenviable position of trying to defend this way but using the ball terribly (approximate number of turnovers: lots) and getting beaten at contests (-22 contested possessions).
So while on first glance it looked like North’s defensive unit was all over the shop as the Lions kicked somewhere between 23 and 68 goals over the back, the reality was the spiral began from the source.
This clip starts with Lachie Neale strolling out of a stoppage untouched, then it’ll switch to behind the goals vision to show the chaos that created.
The minute Neale gets out of congestion, everything turns into scramble mode. The defenders know they’re supposed to come up – which is what Ben McKay does – but Brisbane have a step on North in every way, making it look like McKay made a bad decision.
But even if McKay stayed at home and another key defender came up, it just would have meant a different free Lion. It was a lose-lose situation.
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In the next clip I’ll cut it off before McCluggage misses his snap because that part is irrelevant to the point I’m attempting to highlight.
From a 50-50 ball at half-forward for North, Neale (yes, him again) can snap it forward to a one-on-one. So far, it’s not great, but still salvageable. As Corr and Fort battle you can see Ziebell pushing up on the defensive side.
Corr does his job in taking Fort out but then Neale has been able to run from contest to contest and is allowed to toe poke forward.
That takes Ziebell out of the play, forces McDonald to step up and try and stop McCarthy – leaving McCluggage in space – all the while leaving Sheezel with a double whammy of hesitancy and in no-man’s land.
In the background Bailey Scott is trying to become Usain Bolt so he can catch McCluggage but has no chance of succeeding.
All the above could have been avoided – if Neale* didn’t beat a handful of Roos to the secondary contest after clearing the first contest.
(*I’m aware this description downplays Neale’s role. From a Brisbane and neutral perspective what he does here is elite. From a North perspective you’d be hoping someone – anyone – could recognise his threat in the situation)
Those are the two clearest examples from broadcast view of how North lowering their colours around contests allowed so many easy Brisbane shots at goal. If I could transition what my eyes saw into video clips we’d be able to go through 15+ minutes of exhaustive analysis, but the technology isn’t quite there yet.
That leaves the other reason for the defence looking as it did on Saturday – the turnovers. All of the turnovers.
One of the new features on here in 2023 is the ability to create your own positional depth chart for every club.
It’s available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers, and hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.
Unfortunately there was no significant explanation in Alastair Clarkson’s press conference for why North’s ball use was so aggressive – merely a throwaway line mentioning that maybe players were too aggressive at times – because overall North’s ball use from start to finish looked like it was at 2x speed.
It was a significant departure from all available data this year, and perhaps unsurprisingly it came unstuck more often than not. Brisbane kicked 116 points off turnover, an obscene amount.
Combine the ball use with a defence set to play aggressively and it’s no surprise Brisbane feasted on North’s mistakes.
Here it’s a Curtis Taylor turnover with a low percentage handball leading to a simple Daniher mark against a retreating Logue…
…or Tom Powell trying an even lower percentage kick which quickly goes the other way.
Naturally when a side kicks 116 points off turnover there’s the potential for a lot of these clips, but in the interest of brevity I’ll cap it there.
These turnovers – which it should be emphasised, were also made by the defenders at times – completely breaks the defensive setup. Because of the location of these turnovers, they’re genuinely undefendable. In a way it was something of a surprise Brisbane only scored 116 points off turnovers.
The defensive setup looked terrible because of what happened in other areas of the game. As I wrote a while ago, one bad thing causes spot fires in four or five other areas down the chain.
But to sum it up and reiterate what I said at the top, none of this should result in panic because it’s clear what went wrong and how to fix it.
With an important game for the club’s history coming up – Todd Goldstein’s 300th, only the sixth player to do it for North Melbourne – there’s a clear road map to turn it around and send the big man home a winner.
Milestone games tend to bring memorable moments at North (except for Adam Simpson’s 300th, when I sat in the rain at AAMI Stadium to watch not a lot of anything). Hopefully this Sunday continues the tradition.