The embarrassment of a team conceding 10 goals, not to Tom Hawkins or Jack Riewoldt, but to Bulldog Josh Bruce underscores where North sits in 2021 and the hard road ahead.
One less obvious consequence of North’s flat-lining this year should be a reappraisal of Brad Scott’s nine and a half years at the helm of the Kangaroos, who never dived to the bottom in his time, reached two preliminary finals and usually out-performed external expectations.
Scott was a better coach and club leader than was appreciated then, even though his teams never made a grand final.
Scott was forced out out of North by Ben Buckley’s board a little earlier than he wished during 2019. That he was viewed as having “checked out” in 2019 should not overshadow a) that he did a pretty good job for 7-8 years, and b) the difficulty of coaching unfashionable North compared with stronger clubs.
A further part of the Scott reappraisal should be that clubs who end up in the market for a senior coach this year ought to have Scott high on their list of candidates; Ross Lyon isn’t the only experienced campaigner who’s been in the cold since 2019.
Scott has gone to work for the AFL, taking over the challenge of running Football Victoria – responsible for the vast ecosystem below AFL and for picking up a grass roots game, VFL and NAB League that were closed down by the pandemic. It’s a job that appears only slightly less traumatic than coaching North.
Scott has not been keen to return to club life. Some who’ve worked with him reckon he has the capacity to be a club chief executive; certainly, he could reinvent himself as a football department boss.
But the siren call of coaching is hard to turn down. Only Scott can say what he’d do if a club had serious interest.
Greater Western Sydney are odds-on to be looking for a new coach. Collingwood are a chance, too, subject to results and the desire of both the club and Nathan Buckley to continue beyond a decade together. Simon Goodwin, looking better than pre-season, is still no cert to hang on, while Alastair Clarkson, contracted till end of 2022, is entitled to explore his options.
There also may be others in the market.
Scott’s time at North was dented by the nature of his exit. Like his twin at Geelong, Scott can be headstrong and ended up on the wrong side of influential past players and a portion of the fan base. In Brad’s case, it’s the 1990s crew who’ve been front and centre, to a borrow a Denis Pagan-ism, in the criticism.
What was little understood by Scott’s critics was how the landscape of free agency and a liberalised player market made North a far harder club to coach successfully than the Wayne Carey-led teams.
No mid-career, sought-after player of note – from Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly to Adam Treloar – would choose North, irrespective of money offered.
They signed Shaun Higgins, Jarrad Waite and Nick Dal Santo as veteran free agents. Under Scott, Higgins and Waite played the best footy of their careers. Few players of talent underachieved on his watch.
Scott and his crew made blunders, such as failing to rebuild in 2016 when a raft of veterans (Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito, Dal Santo) were retired. But his teams were usually spirited, well-drilled and fell short really only because of a talent deficit.
Whatever Scott did and didn’t get right at North, the more pertinent question is whether, like Brett Ratten, he will be better in his second coming, if he’s up for it.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.