When it was announced last year that St Kilda would replace the Western Bulldogs as North Melbourne’s opponent in the Good Friday match in 2018, Bulldogs President Peter Gordon launched a withering attack on the AFL over the slight. After watching St Kilda’s feeble efforts during the match in question he may well be having a schadenfruedian chuckle to himself. For Saints fans the mood is much more sombre after the 52-point defeat.
After sneaking away with the points against Brisbane in Round One, the hope was that they would be chastened rather than content in their efforts. Unfortunately, with a similarly lax level of commitment against the Kangaroos, they were put to the sword by an opponent much more willing and eager for the contest.
Even given the undoubted horror show of a result, it could have been much worse for Allan Richardson’s men. In the first quarter North’s greater desire to run and create was a full show. On numerous occassions their attacking chains resulted in free men taking marks uncontested in straightforward scoring positions. That the Kangaroos were unable to convert many of these chances spared the Saints much more embarrassment on a disastrous afternoon for the team.
If the result was a kick in the backside for the team the spectacle was perhaps even more painful for those who had to endure watching it. At half-time the scoreboard read 2.10 a piece and it could be argued that both sides were lucky to have 22 points to their name given the atrocious level of skills displayed. If had been a boxing match both trainers would have been looking to ‘throw the towel’ given the dire condition of their fighter. In some junior sports they have a ‘mercy rule’ when one team obtains too large a lead, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Gil McLaughlin and his cohorts were considering something similar at the long break in this one to spare the thirty-odd thousand fans from enduring another minute of the painful clangerfest they had already borne witness too.
In a portent of what would follow later, North opened the third quarter with a string of goals. Always the more dangerous looking of the two teams given their ability to manufacture loose men or one on one contest up forward, the Kangaroos built a sizeable advantage. With Jack Steven busy in the middle and Jake Carlisle battling against the tide diwn back, the Saints were able to lift themselves off the mat by three-quarter time. With a quarter to play, it was a delicately poised contest with it likely to be won by whichever team was capable of producing 10 minutes of AFL standard football.
At the end of the day this was the most galling aspect of the eventual defeat. St Kilda weren’t beaten by a North Melbourne team that played out of their skins, they were just simply unable to produce a level of play to match it with a bottom four team. The much vaunted pressure and effort of last season was nowhere to be seen as they listlessly went about their business until the final siren.
Where North were able to produce advantageous matchups and numbers up forward, the Saints had no such luck. In a triple threat of disaster, at no stage were St Kilda able to manufacture space for their forwards to work in, the delivery into forward fifty was diabolical and the ability to lock it in the front half of the ground was even worse.
It was a bitter pill for Saints fans to swallow, with expectations rising for a return to finals action in recent seasons, a defeat so comprehensive to North Melbourne was the furthest thing from their minds as they made their way to Etihad Stadium. With Adelaide, Geelong and GWS to come in the weeks ahead, unfortunatelty, a case could be argued that things could get worse before they get better.