North Melbourne was coming off a finals appearance in 2012, albeit a 96-point thumping at the hands of West Coast. 2013 was envisaged to be one of stagnation for North; a season of player development as opposed to a climb up the ladder. The Bound For Glory News predictions had North in ninth position, forecasting a year not dissimilar to the previous but without finals presence.
2013 season overview
The 2013 home and away season proved to be one of lost opportunity for North, and one which their fans would be desperate to forget. North Melbourne unwittingly became one of the great sideshows of 2013, with their last quarter capitulations being both a source of astonishment and amusement for the entire AFL fraternity – well, the latter perhaps not the case for North supporters.
Six of their losses – half of their season’s total – were by less than 10 points, including two one-point losses to Adelaide and Carlton and a loss from a Nic Naitanui after-the-siren goal against West Coast. What was even more amazing about these losses was the fact that, with the possible exception of the Carlton game, North were in the box seat to win each of these games, some of them quite comprehensively.
These losses ultimately cost North Melbourne their second consecutive finals berth, which could have resulted in anything given they showed their ability to match it with the best in the competition for three quarters. Their strenuous end to the season also came at a cost, with captain Andrew Swallow injuring his Achilles.
At times, North Melbourne displayed a degree of irresistibility throughout the season, such as when they were beating Geelong by seven goals. At times, the forward structure of North with Drew Petrie, Aaron Black and Lindsay Thomas looked unstoppable. At times, Lachlan Hansen seemed an impenetrable wall in defence. And at times, North’s midfield looked like a juggernaut. At times…
The individual who proved to be North’s greatest positive out of season 2013 was full back Scott Thompson, who ended the year with All-Australian honours. Outside of North, Thompson was previously known as simply that bloke who once got under Barry Hall’s skin. However, this season, he was the in-form defender of the competition, showcased with the apt reward of All-Australian full back by season’s end.
Last quarter performance
For all the times where North looked to be steaming towards a finals berth, their last quarters displayed why they could not even make the eight (or nine). Their midfield seemed to collectively fold when the pressure was on, lacking the defensive run which is pivotal against the top sides. The unstoppable, unsociable midfield – along with the rest of their teammates – seemed to halt whenever there was a hint of a momentum swing. While their performances suggested a finals berth, their last quarters suggested and proved otherwise.
Supporters of North – and the AFL as a whole – were disappointed when Andrew Swallow went down against Melbourne, with it later confirmed that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon. In a time where North needed as many leaders as possible on the park in a probable march to finals, Swallow’s injury proved to be a huge blow for not only their 2013 season, but also the early stages of next season. While initial thoughts seemed to suggest 12 months on the sidelines, Swallow has been said to be buoyed by the injury’s progress, although he pulled out of the club’s training camp in Utah after recent soreness.
It would be difficult to find a North Melbourne supporter who was not excited by the signing of Nick Dal Santo as a free agent. The three time All-Australian came across to North after 12 seasons with St Kilda, where he was an integral part of a Saints team which pushed deep into finals but could never triumph on the grandest stage of all. The leadership of Dal Santo could prove vital in 2014, along with his abundance of finals experience amongst a relatively youthful North midfield.
The other department in which North improved most in the off-season was the coaching department. While there have been qualms over Brad Scott’s coaching ability, the quality added to the coaching panel over the off-season cannot be understated. Highly rated assistants Gavin Brown (Carlton) and Leigh Tudor (Sydney) were added along with Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling. Another off-field acquisition was Geoff Walsh, who was appointed director of football after a successful spell at Collingwood.
Touted as one of the top talents in this year’s pool of draftees, Luke McDonald was a certainty to head to North Melbourne with pick eight as a father-son selection. Having played in the VFL this season, McDonald looms as an exciting option off half-back alongside Shaun Atley. With their final two selections, North picked Trent Dumont and Ben Brown, the latter having played for VFL affiliate Werribee.
Overall grading: D
A positive off-season – along with 75% of their performance throughout the year – has North fans eager for the 2014 season to begin. However, at the end of the day, the 2013 season in itself has to be seen as disappointing given the promising position they found themselves in on countless occasions. Whether these setbacks prove to be either a catalyst for regression or progression in 2014 shapes as the big factor in North Melbourne’s potential successes next season.