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Playing the rivalry card


Rohan Connolly

Roo joy: Brad Scott congratulates his team after North's win over Essendon in round 13 last year.

Roo joy: Brad Scott congratulates his team after North's win over Essendon in round 13 last year. Photo: Mal Fairclough


ESSENDON and North Melbourne don't boast one of the AFL's highest-profile rivalries, but it's one both clubs have always felt keenly. And it's been going on a long time.

As far back as 1896, in fact, and the formation of the VFL, when Essendon, a key player in the breakaway from the VFA competition, was seen to actively thwart North from becoming part of the new league.

In 1921, with North still awaiting entry to the VFL, a proposed amalgamation with the Dons was foiled at the last minute, but not before Essendon had helped itself to a large slice of North's playing talent. North recovered to join the VFL in 1925, and after years of hapless on-field performances, it finally reached a grand final in 1950, where it was beaten by … yep.

It goes on. Like Essendon calling for a player count at Windy Hill in 1958, but left red-faced when the Roos, lined up like schoolboys at roll call, were proven to have done nothing untoward. Well, except ultimately winning the game, and costing Essendon a finals spot.

Of course, the best-known incarnation of the rivalry came between 1998 and 2001, which started when Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy took offence at a third-party suggestion that the Roos thought the Bombers soft, labelling North club officials Greg Miller and Mark Dawson ''marshmallows''.

Few North supporters will forget the joy delivered not only in the Roos' banishing of Essendon from that season's finals series, but Sheedy having to walk the boundary line under a hail of that aforementioned confectionary.

Thus followed a series of on-field stoushes long remembered. A classic in 1999 at the MCG, with Wayne Carey booting 10 goals for the Roos, Matthew Lloyd seven for the Bombers.

The 2000 qualifying final, when Essendon whipped North by 125 points. And the following year, when the Dons pulled off the greatest comeback in football history after having trailed by 69 points 10 minutes into the second quarter.

Since that afternoon, there's no question North has had the edge, winning eight of the 10 subsequent meetings. But any rivalry of which to speak has lain largely dormant. Until perhaps now.

In 2012, it's not about petty politics, verbal stoushes, or on-field incidents as such. What it is about tonight, though, is no less appetising. Two teams that seem virtually inseparable in terms of ability, performance, and, most importantly, ambition. Last season, Essendon finished eighth and North ninth, the Dons a game-and-a-half clear, but both teams' percentage around the 100 mark.

Both sides will go into this game with a very dangerous key-forward proposition - veteran Drew Petrie, playing his 200th, for the Roos, and newly re-signed power forward Michael Hurley for the Bombers. Both will have a midfield general skippering the side - Jobe Watson and Andrew Swallow - both still on occasion left with with too much in their hands.

And both have a seemingly ageless veteran, Dustin Fletcher at full-back for the Dons, and Brent Harvey all over the place for North. Fletcher and Harvey are the two oldest players in the AFL.

The profiles of these two teams are like a mirror, and in a round full of line-ball calls, this looms as the closest. Indeed, the first apparent difference became clear only yesterday, in the approaches of competing coaches Brad Scott and James Hird.

Scott was playing up the rivalry for all it was worth. ''A lot of our coaches who played for North Melbourne against Essendon remember it fondly,'' he said. ''It's a game that I think the supporters look forward to. It's added spice to an already hot round-one clash.''

Pure marketing-man stuff, that. To which Hird was only too happy to play the role of Scrooge. ''For them, that's great. For us, we're about winning round one and defining who we are this year and hopefully building through the season.''

The clear subtext in that comment was: ''We've got bigger fish to fry.'' Condescending, perhaps? Hang on … looks like we might just have found the necessary Essendon-North angst. Seconds out, guys!


  • As usual Rohan, your articles are great stuff!

    Date and time
    March 31, 2012, 10:27AM
    • Cheers, Damien, appreciate that. It's a great rivalry, pleasure to write about it.

      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      March 31, 2012, 11:07AM
  • Ah, the joys of the 2000 qualifier; greatest ever winning margin in final (I think), David King's opening goal yo-yo arm, Wayne yawning on the bench late in the 3rd, ground invasion for Lloydy's 100th - great days, great days..........

    Date and time
    March 31, 2012, 11:22AM
    • Indeed they were ... Wanted to mention Kingy's windmill, but ran out of space ... still gave it to him about it last night, though!  By the way, 2000 was 2nd biggest finals margin ... first was Ess. 133 pts over Collingwood in 1984 ... Baker 6, Vander Haar 4, etc, etc ...great days, too!

      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      March 31, 2012, 11:41AM
  • I reckon Scott's and Hird's comments sum up the 2 clubs - Brad has to do the lot at North, from marketing to coaching whilst James just coaches.
    Another point of angst could be the fact that the Bombers have gone very close to the underhanded behaviour line over the last 20 years, without getting punished - salary cap breaches, sames as Carlton but exposed in an amnesty period, Mal Michael "retires" and then comes to Essendon so that the club that smashed the bombers in a GF doesn't get any compensation, and then Bomber Thompson "I never spoke to another club whilst at Geelong" lands on board! Karma will get you!!

    Date and time
    March 31, 2012, 12:28PM
    • Hi Jon, Good point, and don't think even North would deny its coach has to be more of a spruiker ... not that there's anything wrong with that! The Dons? Well, they've certainly pushed the AFL rules and regulations a few times over the years!

      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      March 31, 2012, 2:15PM
  • Carey was yawning on the bench because as the crowd came on after Lloyd's 100 a portion ran straight to the dugout to taunt him, Sheedy would have exploded if that had happened to his player.
    My Dad told me about the infamous count in the 1950's.It says a lot about the mentality of the team.We are being beaten by a bunch of scrubbers. They must be cheating!!

    Date and time
    March 31, 2012, 1:42PM
    • Hi Tom, Do remember the Carey "yawn" and thinking he was the victim of a camera trained on him at the wrong moment! Re the head count, wrote about it for a book a few years ago, was a real embarrassment for the Bombers, particularly skipper Jack Clarke, given his reputation within the game. Oh well ... winners are grinners and all that!

      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      March 31, 2012, 2:17PM
  • Yes, but in all this one important point has been forgotten: they are North Melbourne, and we, thankfully, are not. Which is a slightly nasty way of noting that moaning about injustice in footy only really works if you've not achieved much.

    They had their time in the sun through dodgy rule changes in the 70s, a bloody good team in the 90s, but didn't capitalise on it the way Hawthorn did.

    Is Don, Is Good
    Date and time
    March 31, 2012, 3:02PM
    • Hi Don, not in supporter terms, certainly. Still admire them for having done so much on the smell of an oily rag for so long, though.

      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      March 31, 2012, 3:03PM

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