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Roos have routine of dishing it out to doubters down pat

We stuck it up ’em! Young Roos Billy Hartung and Trent Dumont celebrate after another goal against Hawthorn on Sunday. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Roos have routine of dishing it out to doubters down pat

Rohan Connolly    

It’s easier to criticise some AFL clubs than others, like those with smallish fan bases, not a lot of wins in recent times, and without Alpha male types in leadership positions to whom the media can expect a savage response if they step out of line.

That’s generally seemed to be North Melbourne’s lot over the years, even when the Roos were in the middle of their most sustained period of success during the 1990s.

Back then, the sniggers were generally about the dilapidated facilities at Arden Street. When the era led by coach Denis Pagan and star skipper Wayne Carey came to a close, the narrative became about the Roos’ perilous financial position.

When the club resisted the considerable will of the AFL (not to mention some very compliant media messengers) to move to the Gold Coast, ending up with an impressively rebuilt training facility as part of the bargain, they were supposedly being short-sighted and pig-headed.

When the Roos reached two preliminary finals in a row under Brad Scott against expectations in 2014-15, the dominant theme was of a list which wouldn’t be good enough to go all the way rather than one which had come within one win of a grand final spot.

And when Scott did begin turning over the list, North at the end of 2016 finishing up veterans Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito, the Roos copped it for dishonouring great clubmen.

There was certainly none of the same plaudits about getting ahead of the curve that Hawthorn received a short time later when it bid farewell to Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis.

The scepticism continued in the lead-up to this season when North Melbourne became a popular wooden-spoon fancy and the questioning of the quality of its now least-experienced senior list in the AFL.

So it would be with some satisfaction after Sunday’s impressive 28-point win over Hawthorn that the Roos would be looking at the ladder this week, on which they sit (at least until Tuesday evening) third with a very healthy percentage.

There won’t be any gloating out of Arden Street, and with good reason. North’s other two wins have come against the hardly-fancied St Kilda and Carlton. Depth is an issue, the expected loss of valuable midfielder Shaun Higgins this week will hurt, and there’s a very testing month ahead with games against Port Adelaide, Sydney, Richmond and GWS.

But the widespread dismissal of the Roos’ 2018 chances pre-season always to me seemed a little superficial.

It overlooked the fact that while North last year won only six games and was playing off for the wooden spoon in the last of those, it had also lost five games by a combined total of just 14 points.

It overlooked the scope for improvement in a large collection of youngsters who mostly had shown some good signs at senior level, but in many cases because of injury hadn’t had continuity of games.

And it overlooked the consistency of the older heads mostly because, well, without being one of the so-called “bigger” clubs, North just gets overlooked.

The impressive start to 2018 hasn’t involved any magic new formula or influx of talent, just a collection of little things adding to up a considerable whole.

When Scott copped it for jettisoning that swag of veterans, there wasn’t much attention paid to the fact that at least a couple in Scott Thompson and Jarrad Waite, were retained.

Those decisions have certainly paid off so far this season, where the former is playing great football again, and offering considerable support to Robbie Tarrant, now clearly one of the best handful of key position defenders in the AFL.

At the other end, where Ben Brown continues his rise to stardom, Waite has also been invaluable as a pressure release. The pair kicked seven goals between them against the Hawks. But for Waite’s inaccuracy, it could easily have been 10.

The significance of the absence of tagger Ben Jacobs for all of last year has been underlined in the first five games this season. He’s had the better of St Kilda’s Seb Ross, Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver and Carlton star Patrick Cripps, and on Sunday shut down Hawthorn possession machine Tom Mitchell.

Billy Hartung is already proving a crafty pick-up with the addition of his pace to a midfield which lacked it, as has greater game time through the middle given to Jy Simpkin and the almost-forgotten Jed Anderson.

Kayne Turner’s forward pressure has been largely unheralded but important, and Majak Daw, finally, may have found a home as a key defender, his three games to date in the new role very encouraging.

Finally, there’s the consistency of the team leaders also ritually taken for granted. Like Ben Cunnington, an old-fashioned footballer who goes all day every day. The gifted Higgins. And skipper Jack Ziebell, who has been given greater licence of late to do some serious damage near goal with the midfield ticking over efficiently enough.

The Roos on Sunday could even afford to spell their first draft pick Luke Davies-Uniacke for a week, a relative luxury given their alleged lack of star power.

Of course, given its historical place in the pecking order of profile, there won’t be much talking up of North. And that tough run over the next month could quite conceivably have the Roos 3-6 and well down the ladder.

But already in 2018 it’s apparent theirs is a list far from the basket case many were portraying it as last summer. And not for the first time over the past couple of decades, also apparent North Melbourne is a club which just gets on with the job, whether or not it’s flavour of the month in the football world.

  1. Great article RoCo. A very good summary of all things North – a club constantly underrated and pushed aside.

    Well I for one am very proud of my club, my team and its values and culture.

    Onwards and upwards Roos!

  2. As a proud North supporter, thank you for writing this article Rohan.

  3. What a fantastic write up. As a member this was one of the best games I have watch lived.

  4. Cheers Rohan, we know you’ve always been in our corner.

  5. Great article! Under the radar as per usual.
    Whilst I am excited by the apparent speed of our development, I am a little concerned that we may miss some very important young talent coming through the daft this year. I for one am not too perturbed, if we drop the games we are expected to lose. An eye on the future 10 seasons of performances has my greater attention! Win, lose or draw, always North!

  6. Well researched, well written and more importantly. A well well balanced piece.

  7. Rohan you may not remember me, but I used to play cricket with you down at EMCC. I was the young fella that used to give you tips for your Green Guide “year in music” articles (Helmet – “betty” still a fave). You probably don’t come off the long run-up anymore, but your colourful, vibrant sprays at batsmen are not easily forgotten.

    Thanks for writing this article. North get ignored too often by the AFL media out of laziness as much as anything. I guess it’s easier to fart out a “Pies in (made-up) Crisis!” click-bait article than to actually analyze why this team has stayed competitive for so long. Really appreciate you weighing in – you’re one of the good ones. Hope everything is going great, sorry about the dons 🙂

  8. Rohan Connolly

    Thanks for that Furzey, actually too old now to come off any sort of run-up! And still playing Helmet regularly, at least my music tastes are still youthful (well, 1990s youthful!)

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