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Hits and misses of round three

Our footy experts review the highlights and lowlights from the weekend's AFL action.

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THIS was a landmark victory for North Melbourne, its first over a top-four team in the Brad Scott era. Geelong might have claimed an excuse. Its previous match was six days earlier. It was one of the best of the season, but it can have left little in reserve, and there was little time to replenish. North Melbourne's was 15 days previously and, in between, it took a weekend sabbatical in Hobart.

Chris Scott, though, was having none of it. "It's a feeble excuse," he said.

Nonetheless, from the beginning of yesterday's clash at Docklands, the Cats were atypically sluggish. Good players fumbled and made poor decisions. Joel Corey was caught red-handed with the ball - a once-a-year happening. Others could not force their way into the contest until it was over. Geelong lost the clearances, its birthright.

Geelong did not surrender the game, of course. North had to win it. This was the business of Brent Harvey, Daniel Wells and Jack Ziebell especially. Through their smarts, North made what can only be called a clean getaway.

North's ball movement was as Geelong's usually is, swift, neat and visionary. In all their work, the Roos were a thought ahead. Lindsay Thomas personified this when flinging himself with the flight of the ball, into onrushing Andrew Mackie, and somehow maintaining the presence of mind to palm it to a passing teammate. The outcome was a goal for Leigh Adams. The collision put Mackie out of the match with a mashed-up mouth; it was that sort of night for the Cats.

North was worthy of its match-long lead, but on another day might have paid for profligacy. Again, Thomas was representative, missing a point-blank set shot, but curling another like a Frisbee from the boundary line.

Oddly enough, North talisman Drew Petrie did not kick a goal and was ineffectual on the night. Instead, there was a steady stream from the rampant midfield.

James Podsiadly prompted the Cats with a baby screamer, and goal, the first of five for him. But they were exceptions to the night's rule. In the second quarter, the Cats betrayed their concern by trying to slow the game, as so many have tried to do to them over the years. Michael Firrito was having none of it; he drilled a 50-metre pass like an axeman's wedge through all 22 Cats to Harvey, for another goal.

After half-time, the questions were about North's nerve and Geelong's heart. Both proved strong. The Cats came at the Roos as the Roos knew they would. Joel Selwood put his neck on the line, Bartel busied himself at half-back, Harry Taylor stole forward for two goals and George Horlin-Smith coolly goalled on the run with his first kick in AFL football.

From quarter-time, the Cats had 33 shots to North's 22, belying the idea of heavy legs. But, falsely, this creates the impression of a victory somehow squandered. The fact is that the match always was North's for the losing. When the excellent Ryan Bastinac goalled at the start of the last quarter, the margin was 42 points. From there, Geelong outscored North seven-goals-to-three, academically.

Against Hawthorn, Geelong had shown itself again to be the team that will not be beaten. In disposition, it was again in the second half. But its handicap was too severe. That was North's signal achievement; in an indoor stadium, it had put daylight between itself and the best team of the era.

In some ways, this was the AFL's equivalent of the match played in a vacuum. Hidden at Sunday twilight, a Geelong-unfriendly time, in front of a modest crowd, with the Etihad roof shut, and not shown on free-to-air television. But it was scarcely the tree falling in the forest. Others will have watched and noted North's dauntlessness.

Perhaps the passing of the seasons at last is taking a toll on the Cats. Of course, few will catch them as flat-footed as North did yesterday. Within, a champion's heart still beats. But for the first time, the Cats looked sorely to miss Cameron Ling, for instance, to deal with Harvey, and Brad Ottens to take charge in the ruck, and, most of all, a nuggety little midfielder who had 40 more touches for Gold Coast on Saturday night.