In every young team’s development, there comes a time when it must finally defeat a very good team; one that realistically aspires to win the premiership that year.
Recent history is littered with such successful efforts to achieve what best can be described as “legitimacy”.
The most famous such claim was in 2001, when an underachieving Brisbane, in their third year under the coaching of Leigh Matthews, verbally put a target on the defending premiers Essendon by declaring “if it bleeds, we can kill it”.
Brisbane beat Essendon back in Round 10, 2001, and didn’t lose again that year on their way to their groundbreaking premiership, the first one to venture north of the Murray River.
What Matthews did that week by quoting Predator was actually place the pressure on his own team, rather than on his opponents. It was quite clear that Essendon were the hunted in 2001, but by declaring them beatable, Matthews threw down the challenge to his own charges. A challenge they passed on the way to winning three consecutive premierships.
Eventually Brisbane became the hunted, and Collingwood in 2002, St Kilda in 2003 and Geelong in 2004 all made their claims for legitimacy by beating Matthews’ Lions.
This Sunday a young North Melbourne side finally made their claim for legitimacy by beating Geelong for the first time in almost five years. It was an audacious display of attacking, free-flowing, nothing-to-lose football, and for reasonably long-suffering North Melbourne supporters, it was just the sort of encouraging performance that they deserved.
While Collingwood, St Kilda and Geelong made their claims quietly, North Melbourne have gone another way. And this may have something to do with the football experience of their coach.
Brad Scott was part of those Matthews-inspired Brisbane teams that will long be remembered as one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.
And Scott, like his mentor before him, decided to put the pressure on his players rather than their opponents.
Some observers have been critical of Scott’s approach, which has been to say before every game against a top side that North Melbourne needed to beat a good team to show their development.
He’d also reveal how pumped up they were for the upcoming contest, which some feel was foolish for Scott to put extra pressure on a young, and perhaps, incomplete playing group.
Last year they lost three games to the 2011 Grand Finalists by a combined 270 points. They also lost frustrating games to Hawthorn, West Coast and St Kilda.
However, their performance against Geelong on Sunday vindicates Scott’s approach. Eventually, the North Melbourne players were going to respond under pressure.
North Melbourne don’t play many games in front of large crowds at the MCG like Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon do, so he had to find some other form of performance expectation to place on his playing list in order for them to develop, and be somewhat ready when they finally make finals.
For the first time in a long time, that now seems to be realistically within reach.
In the next three weeks, North Melbourne travel to Sydney and West Coast. Usually the next step for a team challenging for finals is to start winning inter-state matches.
Historically, North Melbourne have been a good travelling team, although this has not been the case recently. We now wait to see if North Melbourne can step up to the next challenge. A week is truly a long time in football.