Category: Australian Rules Football

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Tom Wills

tom_wills_1857

Tom Wills’s life had all the drama, passion, and excitement of a major movie script: someone who was beloved across a then-fledgling country as a talented dual sportsman and an eccentric personality.

The man was one of the most talented Australian cricketers of his day and also helped give birth to Aussie rules football — a unique and fast-paced game that enthralls modern audiences and has spread across the globe. However, immediately following his death, he fell into obscurity and did not achieve folk hero status as an Aussie sports legend for many decades. Who was Wills, and what made him such an intriguing figure?

Thomas Wentworth Wills was born in rural New South Wales (then still a British colony) on August 19, 1835 to Horatio Wills and Elizabeth McGuire Wills. Wills’s maternal grandparents were Irish convicts, while his paternal grandfather Edward Wills was an Englishman who was convicted of highway robbery and transported to Australia in 1799.

Horatio Wills was active in local politics and also owned a newspaper, where he helped make the case for a self-reliant, robust Australia with minimal British interference. By the time he got married and started raising a family, however, Wills moved to the countryside, settling in a predominantly Aboriginal region of Victoria near the modern-day town of Moyston. Here, the Wills family began a more pastoral style of living.

Young Tom naturally gravitated towards his Aboriginal neighbors as companions, learning their language and appreciating their music. Horatio Wills was also well-regarded among the community due to his uncommon hospitality to the locals, allowing Aboriginal clans to hunt on his land. Tom eventually moved south to Melbourne and attended Brickwood’s School from the age of 11, where he developed a close relationship with his uncle, who lived nearby. A natural athlete, Wills first began playing cricket while at school in Melbourne.

By 1850, Wills was 14 and his father was looking to ensure a good secondary education for his eldest, so he sent him to the elite Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. Here, Wills continued to play cricket and developed a sterling reputation as one of the best young bowlers at the school. In addition to his prowess as a cricketer, Wills also excelled in other athletic events, including Rugby School’s annual sports carnival. At a lanky 5’10” with natural agility and skill, Wills was considered the best all-around athlete in the school.

Wills, despite battling homesickness, finished his schooling in 1855 and began playing cricket across England, including first-class appearances for some of the most historic cricket clubs in the country. Eventually, after pressure from his father, Wills returned home to Australia right before Christmas 1856.

intercolonial_cricket_match_victoria_new_south_wales_1858

Wills came back to his home country at the perfect time — the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales were battling annually in cricket and the competition had reached a fever pitch. Recruited to the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) by his old school friend, William Hammersley, Wills soon became a highly-regarded cricketer in Australia as well.

At the time, Aussie cricketers were strictly amateur sportsmen. Wills didn’t mind; he liked playing sports strictly for fun, but he also enjoyed drinking and fraternizing with the professional Aussie cricketers, which irked sporting officials but endeared him to the average fan.

During the 1857-58 cricket season, Wills was elected secretary of the MCC, but he was blamed for poor administrative skills and sometimes didn’t even show up to club meetings, even when the MCC was heavily in debt. Wills eventually resigned in a huff, resulting in a strained relationship with the MCC that would last for many years.

Despite his lack of secretarial skills, Wills was a prolific writer on cricket-related matters, penning numerous letters to the local press, many of which were often contentious in nature. On July 10, 1858, Wills wrote a letter to Bell’s Life, a Melbourne sporting chronicle, discussing the possibilities of forming a football club to help keep cricketers fit during the winter months:

Now that cricket has been put aside for some few months to come, and cricketers have assumed somewhat of the chrysalis nature….why can they not, I say, form a foot-ball club, and form a committee of three or more to draw up a code of laws?

Wills may not have realized it at the time, but he made a historic declaration, stating that “foot-ball” should be an organized and regular pastime. After spreading the word to local schools, Wills and his fellow cricketers organized a series of test matches at the Richmond Paddock, located adjacent to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The matches were played on subsequent Saturdays in August between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School. At this point, the form of football was more akin to rugby than anything else, but Wills would soon devise a scheme to make his new code of football unique.

800px-australianfootball1866

On May 14, 1859, Wills and a handful of other cricketers founded the Melbourne Football Club. Three days later, Wills invited William Hammersley, Thomas H. Smith, and J.B. Thompson to the Parade Hotel to formally codify the new type of football.

The four men debated the public school forms of football that were popular in England at the time. Wills naturally geared more towards the rugby of his alma mater; however, Hammersley disliked what he viewed as the complex and violent nature of rugby. The men compromised and decided to tailor-make the rules to the typical Melbourne winter conditions. They drew up a set of 10 rules:

1. The distance between the goals and the goal posts shall be decided upon by the captains of the sides playing.
2. The captains on each side shall toss for choice of goal; the side losing the toss has the kick off from the centre point between the goals.
3. A goal must be kicked fairly between the posts, without touching either of them, or a portion of the person of any player on either side.
4. The game shall be played within a space of not more than 200 yards wide, the same to be measured equally on each side of a line drawn through the centres of the two goals; and two posts to be called the “kick off posts” shall be erected at a distance of 20 yards on each side of the goal posts at both ends, and in a straight line with them.
5. In case the ball is kicked “behind” goal, any one of the side behind whose goal it is kicked may bring it 20 yards in front of any portion of the space between the “kick off” posts, and shall kick it as nearly as possible in line with the opposite goal.
6. Any player catching the ball “directly” from the foot may call “mark”. He then has a free kick; no player from the opposite side being allowed to come “inside” the spot marked.
7. Tripping and pushing are both allowed (but no hacking) when any player is in rapid motion or in possession of the ball, except in the case provided for in Rule 6.
8. The ball may be taken in hand “only” when caught from the foot, or on the hop. In “no case” shall it be “lifted” from the ground.
9. When a ball goes out of bounds (the same being indicated by a row of posts) it shall be brought back to the point where it crossed the boundary-line, and thrown in at right angles with that line.
10. The ball, while in play, may under no circumstances be thrown.

While not all of these rules have survived, they still form the official basis of Australian rules football — primarily kicking goals, marking the ball, and playing a fast-paced game over a very large area. Due to Wills’s immense popularity in Australia, the new game grew quickly, spreading across Melbourne and the nearby city of Geelong.

While Wills was developing Aussie rules during the winter, he remained a constant — albeit controversial — figure in cricket. After his falling-out with the MCC, Wills traveled around Australia, playing for any cricket team that would have him. This made many clubs furious, as Wills would frequently play without giving prior notice to the opposition, dramatically tilting the odds in his new team’s favor.

Shortly before England’s inaugural cricket tour of Australia in 1861, Wills abruptly announced his retirement from all sports. At the behest of his dad, Wills moved to found a new family property, this time thousands of miles north in outback Queensland along the Nogoa River. Wills, his family, and a number of his dad’s employees took a steam train to Brisbane, and then began the long trip to the rugged Queensland interior to establish their new property. Upon their arrival, Horatio Wills named the new location Cullin-la-ringo and established a ranch there. The family was wary of intermittent fighting between Anglos and Aborigines in the area and resolved to have a non-interventionist approach to the conflicts.

Two weeks later, on October 17, Wills was out of town seeking new supplies when nearly everyone at Cullin-la-ringo — including Horatio — was killed by Aborigines. Nineteen people (including women and children) were clubbed to death, resulting in the deadliest massacre of Anglo settlers in Australian history. Wills was not the only survivor; two men avoided being spotted by the Aborigines and reported the news to Wills later on.

Following the tragedy, Wills rebuilt the property at Cullin-la-ringo and sold it to a relative; however, Wills began to descend into insomnia, PTSD, and alcoholism. Drifting for awhile, he returned to cricket briefly and also spent some time coaching footy in Geelong before going back to Cullin-la-ringo.

By 1864, Wills’s personal life was imploding — his fiancée broke up with him and he was deeply in debt due to squandering money on alcohol while falsely claiming it as “station expenditures.”

Wills eventually moved back to Victoria, staying in Geelong with his sister Emily. He continued to play cricket occasionally, but his on-field professionalism was undermined when opposing players and umpires alike accused him of throwing games repeatedly (In cricket, one must use an orthodox method of bowling the ball, with very little wiggle room. Otherwise, a “no-ball” is called.).

By 1871, Wills’s style of play had ostracized many of his former friends and teammates, including Hammersley, and during that year’s match, Wills was tossed from the game and eventually banned from intercolonial matches. Wills attacked Hammersley (an Englishman) many times in the press, accusing him of manipulating the rules against Australians and threatening legal action.

Despite his fall from grace in the cricket world, Wills was still highly regarded in Geelong, where he helped further develop footy’s popularity. He continued to play and coach, and consulted with other authorities to make new rules and provide innovative game plans. He retired from footy in 1877.

Continuing to struggle with debt, Wills lived with his longterm girlfriend, Sarah Barbor, in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg. Wills’s alcoholism continued to consume him until he was completely broke. With no money, Wills experienced withdrawal symptoms, including intense paranoia, and was admitted to a local hospital on May 1st, 1880. After being observed and released, Wills continued to suffer from paranoid delusions; two days later, he stabbed himself in the chest three times and died. Estranged from most of his family, Wills was buried in an unmarked grave and his funeral was attended by only six people.

220px-tom_wills_carte_de_visite

Wills was Australia’s first real sporting celebrity — excelling in cricket professionally and developing Aussie rules into a beloved winter pastime. However, the man himself remains an enigma among his supporters and detractors alike.

In addition to his alcoholism and PTSD, which sprang from the personal tragedies in his life, Wills had strange personality traits. He was frequently described as charismatic and laconic, although he also had very narcissistic tendencies and was not shy about alienating people. Wills was also a notorious womanizer and may have had hidden mental health issues, often confiding in friends and family that he didn’t always feel like himself.

Wills also wrote many letters to his friends and family over the years, many of which were composed in bizarre fashion: he had a peculiar stream of consciousness style of writing that sometimes defied grammar, featuring random puns, strange Shakespearean allusions, and droll asides. It’s possible that he was bipolar or even mildly epileptic. “He could be dismissive, triumphant, and brazen all in a single sentence,” says Australian historian Greg de Moore.

Despite his moral flaws, Wills is heavily remembered not just for his sporting legacy, but for his egalitarian attitudes, which are strongly reflected in Australian culture at large. In some ways, he is emblematic of the tough, down-to-earth, individualistic image of the “Aussie bloke.”

“‘Great’ athletes seem to be anointed every day; far rarer are those entitled to be considered ‘original’. Tom Wills is such a figure in every respect,” says journalist Gideon Haigh.

Whatever you think of Tom Wills as a person, he will probably always be remembered as a lasting icon of Australia’s two most famous sports.

Advertisements

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Jim Stynes

AFL Round 1 - Collingwood v Melbourne

Jim Stynes has been cemented as one of the all-time greats in Australian football, winning a Brownlow Medal, earning two All-Australian honors, and holding the record for most consecutive AFL games. But Stynes didn’t know the finer points of Aussie rules until he was a young man, as the sport was entirely foreign to him growing up.

Born in 1966 to Brian and Teresa Stynes, he was raised in the southern suburbs of Dublin as one of six kids. He began playing Gaelic football and had a real passion for it, starting from the age of eight and continuing throughout his school days in Ireland. In addition to relishing the fast pace and ball movement in Gaelic football, Stynes also liked full-contact sports, competing in rugby union at De La Salle College, Churchtown.

In 1984, when he was only 18, Stynes led his team — Ballyboden St Endas — to a Gaelic football title in the All-Ireland Minor Championship division. While coming down from the high of this big win, Stynes wanted a steadier income. Since Gaelic football was an amateur sport, Stynes had to support himself by delivering papers for meager wages. While he wanted to go to college, it seemed like a pipe dream.

Soon afterwards, Stynes saw an ad in his newspaper from the Melbourne Football Club. They were offering two scholarships for young Irishmen to come and play Aussie rules while studying at a university in Melbourne. Lanky and athletic, Stynes saw it as a great opportunity and was eventually selected, flying to Australia in November 1984.

In addition to adjusting to the cultural differences in Australia, Stynes had to learn Aussie rules from scratch. While both Aussie rules and Gaelic football feature similar ball movement and kicking skills, Stynes found it hard to transfer his football IQ right away. He needed to fine-tune his techniques, adjust to the full contact nature of footy, and attempt to compete with young men his age who were far more experienced.

However, after about a year or so with the Melbourne Demons’ reserves squad, Stynes began to settle in and be more comfortable with a footy. Coaches liked his athleticism and his positive attitude, and by 1987, he made his senior level debut in a night game between Melbourne and Geelong.

It didn’t go as planned; Stynes performed poorly on the grand stage and didn’t play much the rest of the ’87 season. Melbourne got to the AFL Preliminary Final that year and was leading Hawthorn in the final seconds. The siren sounded to end the match, but Hawthorn had one more shot and were given a free kick after Stynes ran across the mark. This critical error cost the Demons a shot at the Grand Final that year.

But once again, Stynes didn’t quit and the following year, Melbourne made it back to the postseason. This time, they did advance to the Grand Final and lost badly, but Stynes was showing rapid improvement.

140221_jimstyneshero1

In 1991, Stynes had his best season yet, playing all 24 games for the Demons and leading the league in marks (214). He also won the Brownlow Medal, the AFL Players Association MVP award, and was named All-Australian. To date, Stynes is the only foreign-born AFL player to ever capture a Brownlow, which is the game’s highest individual regular season honor.

Stynes was highly regarded for his relentless pursuit of the ball, out-hustling and maneuvering his opponents and using his quickness to be aggressive towards bigger players. In 1993, Stynes collided with a teammate and broke a rib. He was initially ruled out for six weeks, but amazingly, he returned the following week and played with light chest padding for protection. He was holding the all-time record for consecutive AFL games when he suffered another severe injury — this time to his hand — in 1998, and he retired that fall as one of the best players in Melbourne history, playing 264 career games.

Following his retirement, Stynes remained involved in the community, both on and off the footy oval. In 1994, while still playing, Stynes co-founded the Reach Foundation with his friend, filmmaker Paul Currie, with the goal of starting community outreach programs. The foundation works with kids, families, and the like to help people in various ways, from mental health education, to violence prevention, to sports and athletic activities.

jimstynes_2011_10_l

Stynes continued his philanthropic efforts in 1997, when the Government of Victoria asked him to help assist their anti-suicide task force, helping advocate for youth treatment programs and compassionate outreaches. In addition to two autobiographies, Stynes also wrote children’s self-help books and was named Victorian of the Year twice (in 2001 and 2003). In recognition of his community activism and work with children, Stynes received an honorary doctorate from the Australian Catholic University. The AFL inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2003.

The Jim Stynes Medal was named in his honor, first awarded in 1998 to the best Australian player in the International Rules Series, which pits Aussie rules and Gaelic footballers against each other under hybrid rules.

Stynes became president of the Melbourne Football Club in 2008 to much fanfare, although the following year he announced a sabbatical after being diagnosed with melanoma. Stynes continued to work during his treatment, but soon the cancer had metastasized. He passed away at his home at the age of 45 on March 20, 2012 and was survived by his wife Samantha and two kids.

Former Melbourne team captain turned TV journalist Garry Lyon gave an emotional tribute to his former teammate on The Footy Show:

Jimmy refused to let the game define who he was. It was just a part of him and it allowed us to marvel at his determination, unwavering self-belief, resilience, strength, skill, endurance and courage….he was secure enough to know that displaying vulnerability can be a strength and not a weakness.

2017 AFL season review: St Kilda Saints

150px-st_kilda_fc_logo

  • 2017 RECORD: 11-11
  • COACH: Alan Richardson, 4th year (32-52-1)
  • RETIREMENTS: Sean Dempster, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt
  • DELISTINGS: Joe Baker-Thomas, Nick Coughlan
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: None

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Nathan Freeman (ankle) should be ready to go for preseason action, and the same goes for Paddy McCartin (concussion problems). Midfielder David Armitage is slowly recovering from a groin issue.

POSITIVES: The Saints showed good signs of growth most of the year, buoyed by some young talent up front and through the midfield. After Armitage went down, Koby Stevens and Jack Steele stepped up and played very well, while Seb Ross is an emerging youngster in that midfield group, too. Jake Carlisle and Nathan Brown are veteran defenders who made strides in 2017. St Kilda scored some nice upset wins along the way, too, beating Richmond, GWS, and West Coast convincingly.

NEGATIVES: St Kilda’s kicking inaccuracy cost them in 2017. The Saints had plenty of big bodies but were maddeningly inconsistent up front, even among normally reliable playmakers like Josh Bruce and Jack Billings. There’s no question that the Saints have a better nucleus of young talent than they’ve had in the past, but the pressure will be on in 2018 after missing the Finals yet again and saying goodbye to retiring club stalwarts Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna.

SEASON OVERVIEW: The Saints should be disappointed in themselves overall after a season filled with promise eventually went downhill. While St Kilda broke even with an 11-11 year and showed flashes of elite play, missing the Finals again hurt, especially since the club wanted to send Montagna and Riewoldt out on a good note. Alan Richardson’s club needs to regroup and address offensive concerns heading into the offseason. Another year of “what ifs” won’t be acceptable.

ohhhh

2017 AFL season review: Hawthorn Hawks

haeks_logolge

  • 2017 RECORD: 10-11-1
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson, 13th year (190-113-2)
  • DELISTINGS: TBD
  • RETIREES: Jack Fitzpatrick, Josh Gibson, Luke Hodge, Luke Surman
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Taylor Duryea

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Grant Birchall, James Cousins, and Mitch Lewis will be limited until January or so after surgeries, Ben Stratton and Cyril Rioli both struggled with knee injuries in 2017, but will be working their way back when preseason practices start in November. James Frawley was bothered by a turf toe injury, but should also be ready to go soon enough.

POSITIVES: The Hawks shook off an ugly 0-5 start which was marked by an avalanche of injuries. A number of Hawthorn’s young players showed a ton of promise in a disappointing year for the club, and while Clarkson shouldered a ton of blame for not kickstarting the youth movement earlier, he has a much better handle on his personnel heading into 2018.

Despite the retirements of club stalwarts like Hodge and Gibson, the Hawks have a solid baseline of talent remaining, including All-Australian midfielder Tom Mitchell, key defender Ryan Burton, the fiery and versatile James Sicily, and the speedy Conor Nash, a convert from Gaelic football. Hawthorn also got a nice surprise when veteran Shaun Burgoyne elected to play on after contemplating an early retirement.

NEGATIVES: Yeah, about that 0-5 start — sure, the injuries played a key role in Hawthorn’s inauspicious first month, but it still left fans dumbfounded that a club only two years removed from its last AFL Premiership would look so unorganized and lethargic on-field. Give Clarkson credit for righting the ship after such a horrific beginning to the season, but that alarming lack of focus and pressure can’t happen again at such a historic club. The Hawks’ big free agent additions, Ty Vickery and Jaeger O’Meara, did very little in 2017.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Clarkson got another contract extension in recent months and is in the process of re-shuffling his staff; the Hawks will presumably look to the AFL Draft and their VFL reserves side to develop players following last year’s disappointing free agent signings.

Give the 2017 Hawks credit: they improved dramatically as the year went on, and even when their Finals hopes were shot, they still made a consistent effort and developed a better work ethic at the contest, while also identifying a few budding stars. It’ll be interesting to see if Clarkson’s team can make another Finals push in 2018 with a younger lineup and a few key veterans returning from long-term injury woes.

455376-tlsnewslandscape

2017 AFL season review: Collingwood Magpies

collingwood_football_club_logo-svg

  • 2017 RECORD: 9-12-1
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley, 6th year (70-65-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Jesse White
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Tyson Goldsack, Lachlan Keeffe, Ben Sinclair, Josh Thomas

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Magpies had pretty bad luck on the injury front, but a number of those players should be ready to go for preseason, including captain Scott Pendlebury, Travis Varcoe, Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Daniel Wells.

POSITIVES: The Pies were able to pull off some big upsets along the way, including Geelong, Sydney, and West Coast. While it sometimes seemed that Collingwood would never have the same healthy players on the field as they had the previous week, the Pies showed some flashes. Players like forward Daniel Wells, ruckman Brodie Grundy, and halfback Jeremy Howe all stepped up and answered the bell when they were needed. Former Giant Will Hoskin-Elliott was one of the Pies’ more promising young free agent additions, and Steele Sidebottom also continued his classy form.

NEGATIVES: Collingwood continues to drop winnable games, as they can’t seem to play four quarters of footy when it counts the most — they were eliminated from Finals contention as early as Round 16. Touted free agent addition Chris Mayne barely did anything in his Magpie debut, and plenty of other players battled injuries and inconsistency, including Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Travis Varcoe. De Goey also came under scrutiny after a bizarre early season suspension that called his character into question (he hurt his hand in a bar fight and then lied about it to club trainers).

SEASON OVERVIEW: While the Pies have been able to be competitive on a weekly basis, there’s no getting around the lack of enthusiasm and consistency around the historic club. Four seasons with Finals action seems like an eternity for faithful fans, and there are bound to be plenty of changes in the offseason. With embattled coach Nathan Buckley sticking around for at least two more years, the Pies need to take big steps forward in 2018, and that starts with a sense of urgency around the ball and better defensive pressure.

josh-daicos-collingwood-magpies-afl-2017

2017 AFL season review: Fremantle Dockers

logo

  • 2017 RECORD: 8-14
  • COACH: Ross Lyon, 6th year (79-55-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Zac Dawson, Garrick Ibbotson, Shane Yarran
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Hayden Ballantyne, Zac Clarke, Michael Johnson, Nick Suban

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Zac Clarke, Matthew Uebergang, and Alex Pearce all missed the 2017 season with various knee, leg, and hamstring issues and will be looking to make a preseason comeback. Michael Apeness and Lachie Neale will also be recovering from knee surgeries.

POSITIVES: It was an up-and-down season for Fremantle, but they began the rebuilding process around their known quantities, like superstar Nat Fyfe, as well as debuting several exciting players such as youngster Brennan Cox and free-agent addition Cam McCarthy. The Dockers shook off an ugly first month to notch a couple of notable wins, including big victories over Melbourne, Essendon, and the Western Bulldogs.

NEGATIVES: Injuries took their toll late in the year as the Dockers suffered three 100-point defeats and ultimately dropped 11 of their last 13 matches. Ruckman Aaron Sandilands was never 100 percent all year due to hamstring troubles, and while his replacement Sean Darcy did admirably, the Dockers are just a different team when Sandilands isn’t dominating the hit-outs in the middle. Hayden Ballantyne is one of the game’s most electric small forwards when healthy, but he frequently isn’t, leaving some to wonder if he’ll continue his career. (Coach Ross Lyon remains confident that the 30-year-old Ballantyne will elect to play on.)

SEASON OVERVIEW: It’s kind of a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full deal for the Dockers. While the fans have been grumbling about Lyon’s coaching methods and the general lack of consistency, there’s plenty to like about the young talent that was thrown into the fire this year. Docker supporters can also take solace in the fact that they still doubled their win total from 2016, locked in Fyfe for a long-term deal, and opened up a new state-of-the-art training facility.

We’ve seen that Freo can be a lethal side when they have the horses to pull it off, but a lack of depth and experience throughout the lineup hasn’t helped in some of their more humiliating losses. They were reasonably competitive most weekends, but they’ll need to show more grit, durability, and finesse if they’re to move up the ladder in 2018.

screen-shot-2017-05-12-at-6-58-12-pm

2017 AFL season review: North Melbourne Kangaroos

north_melbourne_football_club_logo

  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brad Scott, 8th year (94-90)
  • DELISTINGS: Will Fordham, Lachlan Hansen, Matthew Taylor
  • RETIREES: None
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Scott Thompson

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Kangaroos were exceptionally unlucky on the injury front in the latter half of 2017, which played a large part in their stumbling to the finish line. Getting Nathan Hrovat and Marley Williams back from season-ending ailments will be key, and Jy Simpkin, Braydon Preuss, Sam Wright, Ben Brown, and Jack Ziebell will also have minor surgeries in the coming month or so.

POSITIVES: Ben Brown established himself as one of the AFL’s most consistent kicks and the Roos’ big target up front, booting 63 goals in the 2017 season. Key players such as Braydon Preuss and Jy Simpkin were able to be influential when they were healthy, and the Roos also got encouraging seasons from defender Robbie Tarrant and aggressive midfielder Luke Macdonald. The Roos also extended their winning streak over their crosstown rivals, beating the Melbourne Demons twice.

NEGATIVES: The Roos struggled right out of the gate and never recovered, starting 0-5 to match their worst start since 1972. A young team, North Melbourne struggled late in games and dropped four contests by 10 points or fewer, and there’s no excuse for them losing 10 out of their last 12 games, either. Former All-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein suffered through a disappointing season, and fellow big man Majak Daw struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Coach Brad Scott got a two-year contract extension following the season finale, but there’s no denying that his Roos need to take a major step forward after missing out on postseason play for the first time since 2013. When North was good, they were really good, but when they were bad, they were awful. The club has been linked to several potential free agents, including Richmond’s Dustin Martin, GWS’s Josh Kelly, and Geelong’s Steven Motlop, although it’s yet to be seen if the Roos will get any of them.

There’s still talent left on the list, although much of it is young — 11 players made their debut for North this year, and they could stand to grab a couple of classy midfielders via free agency or the AFL Draft. Quite frankly, following the retirements of club legends Nick Dal Santo and Brent Harvey this time last year, it was always assumed that 2017 would be a year of growing pains for North. Getting back to the Finals in 2018 would be a big first step if the Roos are to cement their standing as a relevant squad again.

Todd-Goldstein-North-Melbourne-Kangaroos-AFL-2016