North Melbourne fade outs a minute-by-minute challenge

North Melbourne players leave the field after yet another fade-out. North Melbourne has made a habit of close losses. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Footy FixRoos a hard sell

Every Monday morning, I get my coffee from George. George is a great barista and a keen North Melbourne supporter. As the season has progressed and North has found ways to lose unlosable games, George’s demeanour has changed. It has gone from disappointment to frustration to anger.

There would be thousands of North supporters like George who are getting sick of supporting a team that promises so much, but delivers so little.

The Kangaroos sit in 11th spot on the ladder. They use the ball particularly well. Their skills are good. They move the ball quickly, they score highly. In fact, they are the fifth-highest scoring team in the competition. But, when the tide turns against them, the floodgates open.

They can’t hold leads. They can’t defend. They leak goals and they lose close games. Last year on three occasions they lost games by two points. This year they have lost by four, three, two and one-point margins. It’s doing their supporters’ heads in.

Last year after a shaky start, Brad Scott’s boys stormed home to win 10 of their last 13 games. With just seven games to go and with six wins and nine losses, time is running out for another late charge to the finals. Quite simply, it’s curtains for the Roos if they lose to the Blues on Friday night. It’s time to put up or shut up.

Everyone has a theory on the woes of North, so here is mine.

They have an emphasis on fast-flow football. The coach calls it “up tempo”. The Roos fly out of the blocks. They have won 13 of 15 first quarters. That’s great, but it is hard to sustain.

The opposition starts to fill the corridor that the Kangaroos like to use. They lock down on the “hot” possession getters, be it Andrew Swallow, Daniel Wells or Brent Harvey. They won’t allow Lachie Hansen to run free in defence to take intercept marks, and they will play through Hansen’s opponent as he is not strong defensively.

Knowing that ruckman Todd Goldstein rarely gets a rest, they will keep changing ruckmen on him and run him wide to fatigue him. Harvey and Lindsay Thomas will be physically and verbally worked over. They are the only two smalls who consistently hit the scoreboard, but they are a real chance to strike at the opposition if the taunts and torment continue. Both have missed games this year through suspension.

When the heat comes on the backline later in games – and the Roos have lost more second quarters than they have won – Michael Firrito and Nathan Grima too often lose contact with their opponents. They get lost, frustrated and free kicks and 50 metre penalties often result.

When the opposition starts to run hot, strategies have to be put in place to ease the pain. Tight tagging is one. Last week, Brisbane’s Daniel Rich ran riot in the third quarter as the Lions started their surge. You can’t let the opposition’s best kick get 12 disposals in one quarter.

The Lions kicked three late goals in the third term. It should have been just the one. When the first of the three were scored, and with just minutes before the siren, the mindset should have been to protect the four-goal lead. So, it’s neutralise the stoppages, prevent fast breaks, get extra numbers behind the ball. When possession is gained, keep it with short passes or kick wide to the boundary to let the clock tick down.

Now, I suspect the coaching staff have talked and practised all of that. But if the players won’t do it drop them, because ultimately that’s the only way to get the message through. North Melbourne has used just 30 players so far this season, the fewest of any club. It has been reluctant to spread the load, so I suspect too many undisciplined acts have been tolerated.

We know at North there’s an emphasis on the speed, skill, and score side of football. That’s great. But is there just as much focus on the nitty-gritty? How much do they practise and rate the tackle, spoil, smother and accountability running?

Sydney set the tackling standard in last year’s grand final, and is the No. 1 tackling team in 2013 with West Coast, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Geelong hot on its heels. North comes in at 14. Swallow, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Levi Greenwood hit in hard, but too many others don’t, with Hansen lucky to lay one tackle a game.

North has to consider the state of mind of its players now that they are being constantly quizzed about their erratic performances. They need to keep things simple. They need to be encouraged to take the game on with a minute-by-minute approach. They shouldn’t think about what has passed, be it good or bad, and they shouldn’t think beyond the next minute.

You can’t hide when you feature on Friday nights. The football world waits for, watches and assesses this game more than the others. North had a taste of it in round eight when it blew another healthy lead to be beaten by an after-the-siren Nic Naitanui goal.

On Friday night, they get their second chance on centre stage. All eyes will be on the senior players. Swallow, Harvey, Firrito, Wells, Thomas, Ziebell, Drew Petrie and Scott Thompson. They have to be vocal, brave, bold and disciplined – on a minute-by-minute basis.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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