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The Day the Shinboner Spirit Died

 

 

Following the miraculous German-engineered Greek triumph in Lisbon precisely 2 weeks previously, few would have thought that a sporting travesty was imminent for a team once as mighty and revered as Greek Gods, but, after Round 16 2004 could claim that there only possible link to that heroic, Herculean Greek national team is that they also wore royal blue and white.

 

Imagine the enthusiasm of an unsuspecting Roo fan that innocent Saturday morning as he strolled to Princes Park from Barkly Square Shopping Centre in Brunswick and the positive portents that pointed to another routine Rooboy win:

  • Rocca indomitable at full forward in recent weeks; 
  • Daniel Wells finally adding performances to potential; 
  • the much maligned Shannon Watt towelling up Lloydy against the arch-enemy at the Dome two weeks prior and following it up with a solid effort against the Traitor's men;
  • Leigh Brown still immersed in his self-styled role as the cult hero with love handles;
  • Carlton about as effective as thalidomide for morning sickness against a Port side the week before with more high profile injuries than ever, but probably a lot more balls as well.

In fact, so cocky had Roo fans become, and so downcast was the general mood down at Optus Oval that some had boldly predicted the demise of Pagan, as yet another Top 8 hopeful crushed his woefully inept Carlton team (and regardless of whatever transpired on that day, they still indubitably are), the logic being that narcissists can only except so much defeat, especially at the hands of a club whom they have been unsuccessful in subsuming for the better part of two decades. Maybe, just mayber, another Roo win would be all it took to transform Pagan in the eyes of the Carlton from faithful from Supercoach to Latest Scapegoat, i.e. the interloper who has never learnt the 'Carlton way' (and what exactly is the Carlton way - rorting national drafts like a 21 year old conscientious Vietnam objector, it would seem...) and who was unceremoniously discarded as a Carlton under 19 player and still felt that, after 2 premierships and a decade of dominance over the Navy Blues, he nonetheless had to prove something to the Wes Lofts and George Harrises of the world.

 

However, what was to transpire on that fateful Saturday amounted to a betrayal of Australian rules football, and could only be described as the act of murder and desecration that resulted in the death and interment of the Shinboner Spirit.

 

First, to Dean Laidley. The Junkyard Dog - how appropriate. In his worst-ever management performance, he craps on ad nauseaum during the week how, for his charges, beating Carlton this week would speak volumes about the club's finals chances and the club's character and mental strength. What unmitigated garbage. This is still a hopeless Carlton team, a Carlton team that some of the true premiership challengers this season have used as training practice with such ruthless effortlessness, knowing full well that when that day comes to restore Carlton to its status as an on-field power of the AFL, the Blues will not show, and have never shown, any mercy. 

 

It has been a source of considerable enjoyment and excitement this season watching the likes of Port Adelaide, Brisbane and St. Kilda completely disgrace this edition of the Blues' team - mollycoddled by the anti-disestablishmentarian media of course, Pagan's Blues have copped none of the criticism or 'heat' reserved usually for the perennial incompetencies at Punt Road, Moorabbin or the Western Oval. 

 

Instead of Laidley playing a straight bat to media questions about the Carlton game (you know, the usual crap - respect for Pagan, tough game last time, playing for 4 points - Allan Jeans classic understatement stuff) he projects all his clearly intense insecurities about coaching against his former mentor onto his fragile young team. A catastrophic psychological blunder of the most unimaginable proportions. 

 

This, I am certain, would have contributed to his approach to team selections and his addresses both at the start of the game and at each interval. Instead of telling this largely happy-go-lucky, determined (but sometimes nervous) team to go ahead and steamroll the most inept footballing side since Peter Knights' Bears and Graham Gellie's Saints and SHOW SOME BLOODY ARROGANCE (as they did against both the Dons and Dockers), it's almost as if he brought in a social worker and some allied health support (no doubt with a 2-bit psych counsellor thrown in) got all the boys to sit in a big circle and hold hands whilst everyone listened to Goddess Laidley talk about his menstrual pain, and Corey McKernan belting out 'Kumbayah' on guitar, with Dave King on back up vocals. 

 

Pagan, as many North supporters will recall, whilst not always successful, has definitely never been one to take a backward step in creating some psychological tension before a big match in order to unnerve the opposition, but I'm afraid this time, he only had to watch and laugh at Laidley whilst he performed football's equivalent of a World War 2 hashi-crashie, and, as the Poms put it, 'bottle it', and bottle it big time - a massive blot on a once promising record.

 

Second, to Allan Aylett, El Presidente - either the geriatricians need to get on top of his Alzheimer's with some donepezil, familiar surrounds and a full-time carer or he's been taking too much laughing gas, because his comments early last week that he was confident Laidley would lead the Roos to certain premiership glory over the coming 2 years simply reek of the delusional lunacy which has decimated Punt Road and Glenferrie. Puerile tommyrot is simply un-North Melbourne, and only Alice lives in Wonderland.

 

Aside from the Acute Stress Disorder Laidley seemed to acquire at the prospect of his team facing a side which has: 

a)     Thornton at full back;

b)     French, Prendergast, de Luca (a feeble trio) in the ruck;

c)     Norman and Fevola on the spliff;

d)     Stevens still thinking about playing for Eddie;

e)     Ryan 'I can only kick the ball 15m' Houlihan; 

f)       Kouta on one leg g. Camporeale still looking for the soft possession; and

g)      a Lance Whitnall in desperate need of a graze at the fat farm that boosted his career around five years ago

some galling errors of judgement became cruelly exposed in this horrendously unskilled football contest. 

 

First, Shane Harvey quite simply is the reincarnated Ryan Pagan, a veritable runt, hopelessly out of his depth. It has been strongly rumoured that the recruitment of Shane Harvey to North Melbourne was promised as a bargaining chip in the re-signing of his brother, Brent (who, interestingly, is below his usual high standards this season). With ineffectual small forwards Leigh Harding and Jeremy Clayton also wasting everybody's time down at Arden Street, it was felt that exciting young Port Melbourne goal sneak Aaron Davey (yes, 2004 Demon Aaron Davey) would be surplus to requirements. Without question, the nepotism which tarnished the club four years ago has re-emerged with a vengeance, and despite the mandatory soothing denials from club officialdom, must be detrimental to team morale and cohesion.  Shane Harvey must be delisted at season's end. Period.

 

Secondly, I have watched North Melbourne play Carlton three times in two seasons, once live on television and twice this year (Round 3, I can assure you, seems like an eternity ago) and have noted with keen interest Pagan's clever tactical ploy of being able to strangle the North forward set up at a concentrated centre half-forward/centre half-back, actually much like Sheedy achieved in the 1999-2001 seasons at Essendon, with Dustin Fletcher dominating and the likes of Solomon, Mark Johnson, Wellman systematically taking the ball away with incredible aplomb. Instead, Pagan uses Teague and Morrell (and sometimes Thornton) to overwhelm the centre half forward (on Saturday, Drew Petrie - he gets his soon) with Matthew Lappin and Heath Scotland continually at the fall of the ball. Laidley has never been able to counteract this measure whatsoever - and arguments on how best to diffuse such a headache on game day is definitely for another light-hearted discussion in another forum - but surely this represents a dearth of tactical awareness by a) Laidley b) the football department and c) the forwards coach (who is former Essendon DEFENDER and definite Sheedy player Paul Hamilton - it would take Edward de Bono to figure out that little riddle). Someone ought to tell Laidley that it takes more than raw, ill-aimed anger to be a great coach - just ask Ken Judge.

 

Third, the determination and fire which has typified North teams since the beginning of the Pagan era, and until this abomination at Parkville, had continued under Laidley's reign, vanished without a trace on Saturday. On game day at three quarter time I recall quite distinctly turning to my friends and exclaiming with passion and vitriol, "Well, now - is it balls or ovaries time?" God, somebody give me the bloody nurofen...

 

Four, players who are under the microscope include:

  1. Drew Petrie - elected vice-captain this year, has continually underwhelmed at centre half forward throughout the season and the hope of building the forward structure around him have been extinguished; at this stage, looks to be no better than a bit parts tall utility (read poor man's Matthew Pavlich);
  2. Sav Rocca - those two elementary last quarter chest marks would not have been put down had they been covered in hot salami and extra cheese. It must be post-traumatic stress disorder - painful memories of numerous Silvagni baths as a Pie simply paralysed on him the weekend;
  3. David King - he started his senior football career at Port Melbourne; maybe it's time he went back...for good;
  4. Shannon Grant - I still can't believe we gave away Wayne Schwass for this guy (who gave two hoots about the Norm Smith medal in 1999? After all, North only beat Carlton);
  5. Adam Simpson - gave about as much leadership on Saturday as Lord Chamberlain did in 1938
  6. Brady Rawlings - is inaccurate kicking an X-linked or autosomal dominant condition?;
  7. Daniel Motlop - you're not Daniel Wells;
  8. Daniel Wells - you're better than Daniel Motlop - so play like it
  9. Jess Sinclair - just build a bridge and get over smashing Picioane's face into smithareens, believe me, that's the least of Hawthorn's troubles

The rest were just crap.

 

So where to for North Melbourne? Such is the intensity of my disgust at their performance that a suitable self-imposed black ban on viewing North Melbourne games has been instituted indefinitely. I have always had pride in supporting North because the team has always played with such honesty, regardless of the standard of the individuals on offer. Instead, it is as if aliens had captured the entire North playing and coaching list and replaced them with identical impostor doubles (not unlike Jerzy Dudek's [the Liverpool goalkeeper] plight since the 2002 World Cup). The team on Saturday disgraced everyone who cares. Not good.

 

The Shinboner Spirit

b. c1925, in a Butcher's Shop Window in Dryburgh St

d. Round 16, 2004, Princes Park Carlton

R.I.P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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