Up until the eight-minute mark of the final quarter of its match against Fremantle, the resurrection of North Melbourne had been the turnaround of the year.
Victorious in nine of its last ten matches, including a rousing defeat of Collingwood in Round 21, North’s remarkable form reversal seemed to be triggered by itshumiliating 115-point defeat against the Hawks in Round 10.
Their subsequent rejuvenation had thus catapulted the Kangaroos into sixth spot on the AFL ladder, on the eve of their important match against Fremantle.
Heavily favoured to win against a Dockers side without influential skipper Matthew Pavlich, the Kangas were looking to secure a first up Melbourne final in the opening week of September action.
Facing a nine-point deficit early in the last quarter, the match was still very much in the balance.
Fortunately for the Kangaroos, their percentage advantage over the Dockers placed them in the box seat for a first week final in Melbourne against likely opponent Geelong, even if they suffered a narrow defeat.
However, the avalanche of final quarter goals scored by Fremantle has effectively tarnished North Melbourne’s season.
While the Roos will still finish in the top eight, their first up assignment will now potentially be a trip to Perth in a knockout final, tackling the rejuvenated West Coast Eagles at Patersons Stadium.
The dominant performance of the Dockers in the last 25 minutes of football (9.2 to 2.0, including a burst of 7 goals in 11 minutes), turned the Kangaroos into road kill.
The form displayed at the end of the match by North was reminiscent of the capitulation in the last five minutes against Port Adelaide in Round 8. It was arguably at the same non-competitive standard as the final three quarters of the Round 10 debacle against the Hawks, a match now infamous for Lance Franklin kicking more goals (13), than the entire North Melbourne team.
Can the Kangaroos rebound from the disappointment of the 53-point loss?
While they should record a win against the last placed Giants in the final home and away round, the likelihood of hosting a Melbourne final is now totally out of North Melbourne’s control.
Given they were blown away by the Pavlich-less Dockers at the Roos’ most preferred venue of Etihad Stadium, what hope do they have of upsetting West Coast in front of a vocal home crowd in Perth?
While the last ten weeks for North have produced a level of football as good as any team has produced this year, it is a pity that the team’s hard work could be utterly destroyed by an insipid last 25 minutes of football.
North Melbourne coach Brad Scott must be absolutely fuming, and one can bet the players will pay for it this week on the track. Chances are that heads will also roll at the selection table, as North desperately tries to pull this season out of the fire.
Sadly it may be all too late now for the Kangaroos.
Wasting a finals opportunity is an offence that is unforgivable, and the dismal final quarter exhibition from North Melbourne has unfortunately made this event almost inevitable. There is hope for the Kangaroos, but a home final would have made the job considerably easier.