North Melbourne 4.2 6.6 9.7 14.13 (97) St Kilda 3.4 9.8 11.11 12.11 (83)
Nth Melb: Carey 5, Abraham 3, Blakey, Grant 2, Scott, Sholl
St Kilda: Loewe 3, Everitt, Sierakowski 2, Jones, Winmar, Keogh, Sziller, Hall
North Melbourne won its fifth Night Premiership after an inspirational last quarter effort from Wayne Carey. Carey kicked four last quarter goals, and set up another, as the Roos overturned a 34 point deficit. He was awarded the Michael Tuck Medal for best afield. It was a fantastically fast and skilled match, with either team dominating for short bursts. The crowd, and TV audience would have been delighted at how hard each team attacked the ball - and the real season was still a week away.
In front of a huge crowd of 63,760 the match began with smog from the fireworks still covering the ground. Conditions were perfect for football - no wind, and a warm March evening would allow a highly skilled contest to take place. St Kilda took the field with both Harvey and Burke, both of whom were doubtful starters. St Kilda made the most of a frenetic opening, kicking the first 3 goals of the match. It took a while for North to hit top gear, and John Blakey, who was tagging Nicky Winmar, drifted upfield to kick two goals in the quarter. North finished stronger, and led at quarter time.
North continued the pressure in the second term, and had kicked five goals in a row, to answer St Kilda’s opening foray of 3. But just when North looked threatening Loewe was moved on to the ball, and St Kilda took control of the midfield. The Saints kicked six answered goals, and led by 34 points nine minutes in to the third quarter. North looked flat - St Kilda was burning them up on the wings. Austin Jones was particularly damaging, as his pace allowed quick transition from half back to full forward.
On several occasions St Kilda was able to switch the play from one side of the ground across to the other. By transferring play across the halfback line it opened up the wing for St Kilda to run to. This tactic allowed St Kilda to create the loose man, and link several quick handballs together to move the ball from the backline.
Trailing by 34 points, North had to try something. Carey went in to the centre, as did King. This was to try to overturn the trend of St Kilda winning just about every centrebounce. North finished off the third quarter with two late goals. Winston Abraham was the spark up forward, and had virtually kept North in the game with his clever skills. Inaccurate kicking by Abraham left North further behind on the scoreboard than they should have been.
As it came down to the final quarter, North trailed by 16 points and needed a good start. Two early misses at goal cut the deficit to 14 points. Carey then unleashed a 65 metre torpedo punt (click here for a video of the goal) from inside the centre square to goal for North. Only a few minutes later Carey goaled again, after receiving a pass from Abraham. Suddenly it was only a one point ball game. St Kilda looked for Everitt up forward, missing the services of Heatley. However the impressive Pickett and Archer held the North backline together, and it took a brilliant pass by Austin Jones to Everitt to beat Might Micky Martyn. Everitt goaled to steady things for the Saints, who had not kicked a goal for over a quarter.
North had to respond - and who better to do so than Carey. Sholl launched a big torpedo from between wing and half forward, in the hope that someone could mark it. As the ball went towards Abraham and his opponent, Carey ran at full pace with the flight of the ball, and leapt in to the pack to mark on his chest. It was a classic Carey mark - and he goaled to level the scores. Only 15 minutes had been played in the quarter, and with the scores level the premiership could have gone either way. North kept control of the midfield contests, and when Carey kicked another goal, then set up the next with a pinpoint over the shoulder handball to Grant North was home. Carey had kicked four goals for the quarter, and set up the sealer. The very fact that he was involved in every North Melbourne goal for the quarter made the decision to award him the Michael Tuck Medal a foregone conclusion.
North’s best players included Abraham, who showed his pace, ball handling skills and marking ability. His kicked 3.4, missing at least two easy shots, but showed he could be the perfect crumbing addition to the tall North forward line. In the backline Archer was again fantastic, but perhaps the most improved player was Pickett. He managed to combine tough defence with a touch of mongrel. Pickett has shown he is not afraid to throw his weight around, and can be particularly damaging with his tackling and bumping. Grant played his best game for North so far, and showed why the club was prepared to let go Schwass to attain his services. Grant kicked 2 goals and used his left foot to great effect. Stevens was typically hard working, and Pike tagged Harvey well.
The pressure on Harvey was fantastic - North was keen to bring him to ground at every opportunity. This is something Harvey must now learn to beat - as the Brownlow Medallist he can expect greater attention.
The match was also John Blakey’s 32nd pre-season game - equalling the record. Since crossing from Fitzroy in 1993, Blakey has had the opportunity to play in the finals every year, and been involved in two night and one day premiership.
The post-match celebrations were typically low-key for North. There was no rush to accept the Premiership Cup, and Carey didn’t even make a speech. The task was left to the dapper Denis Pagan - who characteristically had a few words, but revealed nothing. One senses that North was simply using the game as a warning to all other AFL clubs.
With Corey McKernan, Brett Allison, Darren Crocker, Brent Harvey and Mark Roberts still to return, it was a formidable come-back effort by North. The win earnt the club $100,000 prize money, plus a $100,000 bonus from sponsors. And with the win likely to attract more members, North may finally break the 20,000 member mark, and achieve this years aim of 23,000 members.
North's pre-season record in the 1990s is the best of any AFL club. 18 wins, 7 losses. North won the 1995 and 1998 Premierships and made the semi-finals in 1996 and 1997.