Brent Harvey, at 36 the second-oldest player in the league, is North Melbourne’s only representative in this year’s All-Australian squad of 40.
Nick Dal Santo and his beautifully coiffed hair – and only because Harvey is ineligible – is rated the Roos’ best Brownlow Medal chance at $101.
Someone called Sam Wright turned the elimination final against Essendon last week with a key interception across half-back; another person by the name of Levi Greenwood averages 25 possessions a game; Kayne Turner is 18 and doing VCE at Maribyrnong College.
The Roos might have finished sixth on the ladder this season with 14 wins, in the process beating every side above it with the exception of Geelong, yet they remain the invisible team.
In terms of public profile, most of their players have a standing – in Tammy Fraser’s evocative phrase – lower than a snake’s duodenum.
Few people outside North diehards, and some well-researched pundits, know anything about this collection of no-names.
Lindsay Thomas is apparently the league’s greatest diver, not the bloke who kicked 53 goals from a forward pocket last year … and somehow missed out on a place in the All-Australian team.
When Mike Sheahan a few weeks ago signed off from one On The Couch episode, he said he had a smokey for All-Australian selection. Gerard Healy and Jason Dunstall, his fellow-couchers, leant forward in anticipation. Who? they asked.
“Ben Cunnington,” replied Sheahan.
There was a silence. Healy and Dunstall looked perplexed and disappointed all at once. Ben Cunnington? Who the hell’s he?
It’s true the stocky No.10 is not much to look at. With socks around his ankles, jumper out and sporting a jailhouse crewcut, Cunnington might be the least fashionable player going around.
But, as any moderately observant North fan will tell you, appearances can be deceptive.
The former Geelong Falcon is ranked No.7 in total clearances this season – racking up more forward thrusts than Nat Fyfe, Robbie Gray, Travis Boak, Bryce Gibbs, Jordan Lewis, Gary Ablett, Dyson Heppell, Tom Rockliff, Scott Pendlebury, Luke Parker and Dayne Beams, all of whom made it into the All-Australian squad ahead of him.
Last Saturday night, Cunnington managed 17 contested possessions and seven marks against Essendon to be among North’s best three or four players yet the man from afl.com.au rated his game a 6 out of 10!
His equally anonymous partner-in-crime, Greenwood, came into the side after the round-one debacle against Essendon. When some of his more celebrated teammates were shown up that night for being bruise-free front-runners, Greenwood was recalled to the team (having played just six games in 2013) and has been there ever since, a mighty presence in the midfield.
Like Cunnington, he also played a blinder against Essendon last week. (At least the afl.com.au correspondent had the good grace to award him a nine.)
When the two sides square off on Friday night, I’ll be glad of the move to the motley, moth-eaten mob from Arden St, and I certainly won’t need a Footy Record to tell me who’s playing for them.
When captain Andrew Swallow missed the first eight rounds this season while recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and Wells was out of action for 15 weeks with a foot injury, it was these two – with a bit of help from Harvey, Ziebell, Dal Santo and others – who kept North competitive.
Yet Harvey gets the AA gig, and Dal Santo is rated our top Brownlow fancy. Go figure.
The anonymity is widespread. Drew Petrie is known not as the player who won All-Australian selection in 2011 and remains the team’s heartbeat, but as the guy who was on the wrong end of Brian Lake’s sleeperhold. Lindsay Thomas is apparently the league’s greatest diver, not the bloke who kicked 53 goals from a forward pocket last year … and somehow missed out on a place in the All-Australian team.
(Port’s Chad Wingard got the honour as the AA team’s small forward, having kicked 40 goals in the home-and-away season, at an average of 1.8 per game. Thomas, since you asked, managed 53.23 from his 20 appearances at an average of 2.65 goals per game. Yet, the selectors somehow plumped for the Port man as their forward pocket. How did that happen? We’ll never know because we don’t have Eddie McGuire as our president demanding a Royal Commission every time such jarring inconsistencies occur. We just kind of get on with it.)
I should stress this is not a whinge from a North supporter – OK, that last bit about Chad Wingard might have been a small grizzle – it’s just an observation. It’s just the way of the world, the way things are.
North Melbourne is a small-drawing club with very little free-to-air TV exposure and, perhaps as a result, a surprisingly low profile. And it has always been thus.
But this is part of what makes supporting North so attractive. They are unfashionable and down-at-heel. So you get accustomed to ‘cash-strapped’ as an adjective in every second newspaper piece. And you get used to the taunts from Essendon supporters when the Bombers are five goals up in a final about ‘tin-rattlers’ and ‘no-hopers’.
There have been times over the past seven years when I’ve regretted the childhood folly of switching teams.
That’s OK. When the good times do come around, they are extra special.
As an impressionable 10-year-old, I was drawn to the Roos in 1973 after Doug Wade, my boyhood idol – whose large No.23 adorned my Geelong guernsey – travelled up the Geelong Rd to North Melbourne, liberated by the 10-year rule.
And that set in train a series of events which had me trading in my horizontal stripes for vertical ones.
There have been times over the past seven years when I’ve regretted the childhood folly of switching teams. As Geelong set about dominating the competition and winning three flags, North fought off Gold Coast relocation moves, and continued to flail around mid-table, rarely doing enough to make the finals and never doing badly enough to win top-10 draft picks.
But when the two sides square off on Friday night, I’ll be glad of the move to the motley, moth-eaten mob from Arden St, and I certainly won’t need a Footy Record to tell me who’s playing for them.