Everyone probably expected North Melbourne to walk all over Melbourne this round. And despite only really putting them away in the last quarter, I took a lot out of what I saw on Sunday:
- Structures – As was predicted, NMFC have changed up their defensive and midfield units. Firrito, Gibson, Harding and Urquhart spent more time in the middle and on the wings, requiring a new look set-up down back. It seemed to work surprisingly well, despite signs to the contrary during the pre-season.
- Defence – ‘Hunter’ S. Thompson looked good deep in defence: read the play well and used good options on the rebound. Laidley was particularly high in his praise for Hansen, who gave Miller a towelling at CHB. These two are key to North’s success this year. And while the signs are good, it’s difficult to take much out of it until they line up against a quality attack.
- McIntosh – Best on ground for me, and possibly the best game he’s played. Got a fair piece of the ball in general play, predominantly in the corridor – not like the junk possessions he used to clock up on the wings. Could improve his tap ruckwork, but otherwise great signs. (Tough for Goldstein to get a look in now.)
- Swallow – Lucky to get the call up after Liam Anthony was cruelly robbed of his debut (stress facture in the foot). Laidley thought we’d have struggled to win without him in the end, and I reckon he’s right. Looked hungry and used the ball much better than his reputation suggests.
- Josh Smith – First time I’ve really got a look at him, and despite seeing little Sherrin, I loved his presence in just his 3rd game. Worked hard, contested everything that came his way and showed enough to warrant another week or two at least.
- Gibson – played in the middle and had a couple of clangers. I love his work in defence and think he should stay there. He’s given Buddy a towelling a few times and will no doubt get first crack at him in two weeks time.
But most of all, North won without any of its stars really firing. Harvey, Petrie, Pratt, Wells and Hale all contributed, but were down on their best. It was the second tier that won the game: Harding, McIntosh, Swallow, Urquhart, Thomas and Power all putting in good performances.
While you can’t take too much out of a Rd 1 win against last year’s wooden spooners, I liked what I saw. The team looked very settled despite the change ups. And if the coaches persist with the set-up, and players are given the opportunity to hold down there positions, North could be real contenders in 2009.
But we’ll see how we go against an in-form Footscray first …