After two consecutive 9th place finishes, 2012 loomed as a year where Brad Scott’s North Melbourne quite simply had to make the finals. After sitting on the cusp and watching forlornly for two years, anything short of a ticket to play in September would have been viewed as a failure and so it’s no surprise that a team renowned for its fighting spirit picked itself up, dusted itself off, and…. lost in the first round. To its most hated rival Essendon. By 2 points. Via a miss after the siren.
North’s season didn’t really get going until after the mid-season break. Highlights of those first 10 games included a historic 129 point win/training drill against the new kids on the block (not the band, but the Greater Western Sydney Giants), and one hell of a clutch win against the Cats at Etihad Stadium. On the flipside, you could almost certainly consider the losses to the lowly Bulldogs, where North were annihilated in contested ball, and Port Adelaide, where someone told the playing group the game finished at three quarter time to be low points. Very low.
Heading into their match against Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium, the main question was how to stop the Hawks juggernaut in athlete/phenom Buddy Franklin. Unfortunately, it appeared that someone forgot to ask the question at the match committee, and Franklin ran riot – kicking an astounding 13 goals and enabling Anthony Hudson to froth at the mouth and shriek “ThirteeeeeEEEEN!” into the microphone over and over again. North went down by 115 points, the football world booed and hissed from a distance as they would a leper, and the season – at 4-6 – looked in disarray.
The season got a lot better from then on. North Melbourne decided not to be the weird kid that gets picked on a lot anymore and in an entirely metaphorical sense, stood up to the bullies. They proceeded to go 10-2 over the last 12 games of the season, sweeping aside fellow finals contenders Adelaide, Carlton, St Kilda, Richmond, Essendon and Collingwood. Their only two losses came against West Coast (where Dean Cox picked the Eagles up, strapped them onto his back and carried them across the line) and Fremantle. North Melbourne finished the season with a 14-8 win/loss record, and headed to Perth for a do or die elimination final against West Coast, where they duly died to the tune of 96 points and a heckling laughter that this author has not quite been able to scrub off yet.
The emergence of young players, like Shaun Atley and Kieran Harper was a positive sign for North. Atley made half-back his own with lightning pace and the run and carry of Harper was a delight to North fans used to seeing the same from Brent Harvey. Speaking of Harvey, the little genius continued to show that he knows nothing of age limits, particularly during his 3-goal third quarter against Essendon which effectively won North the game. Ben Cunnington began to show signs of his top-5 draft pick prowess. Drew Petrie (a top-5 finish in the Coleman medal) and Andrew Swallow made the All-Australian squad, and the mental resilience of a side which looked down and out after halfway through the season, shone through to add some gloss to a season where North finally made finals under Brad Scott.
What didn’t work?
North made the finals and subsequently received a brutal lesson in intensity from the battle-hardened West Coast side in the colosseum-style atmosphere of Patersons Stadium. A young side ran out of legs. In terms of players, Jack Ziebell earned himself a holiday at the hands of the MRP and didn’t look quite the same bullocking player he was before the suspension. A backline which conceded the 5th most points in the competition, no real key backman to play on the gorilla forwards, and losses to teams like Port Adelaide & the Western Bulldogs were sticking points. Brent Harvey will sit out the first 6 weeks of the 2013 AFL season after a crude effort on Daniel Kerr in the elimination final.
What to do next year?
Finals will again be the aim for North Melbourne. After encouraging signs this year, Brad Scott will again aim to have his troops march into September, only perhaps this time in Melbourne instead. Youngsters in the VFL like Brad McKenzie, Aaron Black, Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting Majak Daw & Aaron Mullett will surely see their chances at senior football in 2013.
Who wins the Best & Fairest?
Andrew Swallow does. The inspirational captain took his game to another level in 2012 and deserves his third Syd Barker medal.
North Melbourne matched expectations this year by appearing in finals. Their heavy defeat displayed a tired outfit which will need to improve on this aspect in the off-season. Younger players stood up and didn’t allow themselves to be bullied, but losses in games where a win was expected are unacceptable. Must improve on this next year! All round, a solid showing.
Jordan Witte is a first-year Sports Journalism student at LaTrobe University. You can follow his inane ramblings on Twitter @wittsjw