One kick saves North in hectic finish
North Melbourne went perilously close to throwing away what should have been a fairly sound win over a courageous, but uneven, Fitzroy side in the first V.F.L. semi-final on Saturday. The Northerners are still in the 1958 premiership fight because Fitzroy gambled, and lost, in the time-on period. One kick, after the Maroons had hit the front by two points in an unexpectedly fierce recovery, was the turning point of the game.
It was a short pass by Fitzroy wingman Vin Williams (right) to his team mate Eddie Goodger and it failed to find its target because Goodger slipped in the mud as he moved to meet it.
Clever North wingman Laurie Dwyer whipped in front of Goodger, raced forward with the ball, found Noel Teasdale, and a wonderful goal won the game for North. But for that attempted pass I do not think North could have won the game at that stage.
The side had reached its maximum as far as resistance was concerned, and its will to fight on did not seem to be as strong as Fitzroy's. After that, however, it was a relatively easy task for the Northerners to hang on for a minute or two until the siren blew.
It must have been a bitter blow for every Fitzroy player and none more so than Williams to have a game as important as a semi-final snatched away from them so late in the day.
One long, defensive kick along the members' grandstand flank virtually would have guaranteed the Maroons' success. However, it must be pointed out in Williams's defence that he was only carrying out the tactics, cultivated so freely all the season, which had played a big part in lifting the Maroons from second last in 1957 to a finalist in 1958.
Ever since Len Smith took over the coaching at Fitzroy, players have been encouraged to think and act in a creative manner. Risks have been taken all the season and they have paid off right up until the last minute or so of play on Saturday. The first 10 minutes of the semi-final were a perfect illustration of this.
North was scarcely aware the game had started before the Maroons brilliantly swung into action to pile on three goals. With almost every move fired by the great ruck work of Alan Gale, and with centre-line players, half- forwards and forwards almost uncanny in the way they worked into perfect position with handball, Fitzroy had the appearance of a premiership class
But such play cannot last for long unless it is given support from all positions on the field, and is backed up by a decisive edge in pace. By quarter time Fitzroy's too many "thin" positions had been revealed, and once the Maroons were unable to outstrip North in the race to the ball, everything pointed to North, and not Fitzroy, going on to victory. North was physically stronger in and around the packs; stronger in the air and across the centre, and in command in most positions along the goal-to-goal line. Yet it was no flattering compliment to its tactics and play that it failed to tie up the game safely in the second and third quarters.
Perhaps it may have done so if full-forward John Dugdale had not lost confidence early, and if North's other forwards had not gone back to their old habit of believing they had more right than Dugdale to the space in front of goal. The only forward who helped Dugdale was John Waddington. and his three goals bear clear testimony that patience, and an eye to opportunity, will bring their rightful reward. But, even with its forwards jumbled together, North still would have got sufficient value from its many strong points to have won by much more than four points had it insisted on direct action.
North's strength is straight down the middle, not along the flanks. Yet, almost without fail the first movement started by the centre-line rovers swung the ball wide towards the pockets.
As well as contributing to ball wastage, this led North into the trap of running itself into the ground-and that was some- thing which should have been guarded against after its last two tough games, at Collingwood and Essendon.
Maroons Fight Back
When North flagged, and when its best forward, Albert Mantello, was taken from the ground during the three-quarter-time interval, Fitzroy made a couple of
moves. It switched Owen Abrahams to centre half-forward, brought on Leo Smyth, one of its reserves, and from then on slowly but surely fought its way back into the game. Quick success by Abrahams in the form of two goals fired the first bullets that started that Fitzroy run in the last quarter – but at the same time It served to leave everyone wondering why the move had not been made much earlier in the game.
For some reason or other Abrahams had been allowed to remain almost in cold storage on a half-forward flank, and while he was there North Melbourne's captain, John Brady, was having things pretty much his own way at centre half- back. Brady's dominance was not altogether the fault of new Fitzroy centre half- forward, Keith Wiegard. Wiegard played his part by moving about and breaking clear, but he was simply ignored by his own team mates. Too often Fitzroy players got the ball and kicked without thought, and usually it was Brady who was wait- ing alone to accept those gifts.
Another move which seemed very necessary after the first quarter was one to combat Neil Doolan, who was starring in the centre for North. The Maroons might have done this with Brian Pert, whose keenness to get into the play was shown by the risks he took against John Waddington on a half-back flank. Just the same the Maroons, without two stars in Don Furness and Kevin Murray, put up a grand fight. Everyone connected with the club can feel proud of the way the side performed, not only on Saturday. but throughout the season.
If North was lucky to win, it also would have been unlucky to lose. For most of the game it made the play, it had a better distribution of strength, and in the final crisis it was able to make the most of one lucky "break" to win the match.
But spirited and courageous as its win was, there were still certain weaknesses It could not disguise. Most striking of these was the lesson that its attack depends for success on the straight kicking of John Dugdale and the centre half-forward play of Albert Mantello (right). Once Mantello had left the ground North did not se look like developing any reliable avenue of attack, for even when Dugdale managed to get the ball, no reliance could be placed on his kicking. His only goal on Saturday was kicked off the ground.
Main worry after the attack is the rucks. Fitzroy captain Alan Gale took on all North's followers single-handed on Saturday and thrashed each in turn. I can see Noel Teasdale doing better, but not Bob Wiltshire, even though he was fairly useful, Brian Martyn or Max Ritchie.
As well as falling down in those phases of the game North marred a lot of its work with "slap-happy" and weak disposal. Time and time again kicks were grubbed or finished nowhere near their target. Satisfactory aspects were the drive from the centre-line, the alert roving and the forceful and vigorous display of defence after a weak beginning.
North Melbourne: Waddington 3, Schofield 2, Aylett 2, Dugdale, McMahon, Teasdale
Fitzroy: Knight 2, Abrahams 2, Ongarello, Clark, Wiegard, Campbell, Aston
North Melbourne: Brady, Edwards, Doolan, Eastmure, Aylett, Mantello
Fitzroy: Gale, Campbell, Aston, Vernon, Mackenzie, Abrahams
North Melbourne: Mantello, concussion, by Cahill at three-quarter-time; English cramp, by N. Dean' last quarter
Fitzroy: Knight Smyth at three-quarter-time.
TITLE: One kick saves North in hectic finish
AUTHOR: Percy Beames
The Age, Monday September 1, 1958