Why North Melbourne's Appointment Of David Noble Offers Them So Much Hope

In hiring David Noble as their next coach, North Melbourne has embarked on something the rest of the league has been unreasonably petrified to do. 

At 53 years of age and with all of two games of AFL playing experience, the Roos have refused to read from the well-worn script of contemporary AFL coach hiring. 

Noble joins a club in undeniable strife and one who’s endured an utterly miserable start to the millennium. They’ve won a grand total of five games in September since 2001, boasting just a single top-4 finish in the same time span. 

And it’s been even rougher sleighing recently with North suffering three bottom-4 finishes in its last four campaigns, while their 71.2 percentage in 2000 was it’s lowest since 1972.

Over the last twenty years North have repeatedly fallen for the same characters when selecting their coaches. Since Denis Pagan departed, the Roos have swiped right on Dean Laidley, Brad Scott and Rhyce Shaw, all decorated players with hundreds of games of experience at the top level. All were in the thirties and all could delicately place down premiership medallions on the interview desk.

And while none of those hirings were particularly bad choices, they were anything but the kind of inspired thinking which netted them Pagan in 1993, and which they’ll be hoping to replicate with Noble. 

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The much easier, and more popular path for hiring AFL coaches these days is to nominate inexpensive, fresh-face candidates without the slightest whiff of a used-car smell. These type of blank-canvass appointments initially help sell hope to fans, yet so often get stuck in the mud. 

St Kilda’s a recent example of a club courageous enough to give a previously sacked coach in Brett Ratten a second chance. In trusting Ratten with the club’s keys, the Saints exorcised a nine-year Finals drought and can now legitimately start thinking about a premiership assault. 

Luke Beveridge and Chris Fagan were two other recent selections that bucked the conservative trend. 

In Beveridge, the Bulldogs didn’t accept that the former nuggety forward-pocket was destined for a life behind the scenes and were bold enough to thrust him into the hot seat. He of course played a pivotal role in the Bulldogs breaking their 62-year premiership drought, while he continues to march to the beat of his own drum.

But it's Brisbane who has the most relevance for North Melbourne, and not just because David Noble served as the club’s General Manager for the entirety of Fagan’s reign.

Prior to Fagan and Noble’s 2016 appointments, the Lions had danced the nepotism tango to the point of exhaustion, with premiership heroes Michael Voss and Justin Leppitsch combining for a 56-116 record. 

While Fagan couldn’t offer a glittering playing record to his young cohort, he did bring a truckload of coaching pedigree and know-how, the likes of which the league’s youngest and least experienced list was crying out for.

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With his fellow Tasmanian and right-hand man by his side, Fagan and Noble helped turn around the club entirely, missing out on the last two Minor Premierships by percentage only, while they are one of just two clubs to attain a Final’s scalp from Richmond over the last four years. 

Importantly for North, Noble will be able to send the message that it’s not just one thing that’s needed to overturn the club’s fortunes. Brisbane drafted well, developed even better, traded strategically and backed in a game-plan that suited their squad.

Crucially, all of these re-build options have been on the table for years at Arden Street, yet for a variety of reasons none of the previous coaches have either picked up, nor committed to the template. The David Noble appointment however gives the Roos the opportunity to re-write so many of the wrongs of the past couple of decades, and potentially, like Brisbane, expedite a rebuild.

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There’s an ancient Bundoora proverb which suggests the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and in hiring Noble, the Roos have taken an unquestionably positive one. The next will hopefully be on draft night where they’ll have two-first round selections for the first time in 19 years, and the one after that will be implanting a game-plan around one of the league’s youngest teams.

Fagan’s initial years in Brisbane were all about incremental gains, and while the win tally only jumped from 3 to 5, the percentage leap-frogged from 61 to 89. Most importantly, these formative years were about pumping meaningful games into the likes of Harris Andrews, Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Oscar McInerney and Eric Hipwood, none of whom had played more than 40 games before Fagan and Noble came to town, yet all are now vital members of a club knocking on the door of its next flag. 

In Fagan’s first year in Brisbane he didn’t have a single player with more than 150 games under their belt, while in Tom Rockliff and Dayne Beams, there were just two All-Australians on the list, while both would be gone by the time the Lions started getting seriously good.

While North will have a tad more experience already in place in Todd Goldstein, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Robbie Tarrant, it’ll be the likes of Jy Simpkin, Cameron Zurhaar, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Tarryn Thomas whom Noble will hoping he can develop into stars, to go along with the the 4 top-forty picks they’ll have at the draft- ironically the same quota Fagan and Noble had for their first draft with the Lions.

The air of caked-in negativity at Arden Street has lifted with the hiring of David Noble, with many hoping he'll be able to get this wonderful club back on the right track again.

Most importantly, if Noble is able to turn around North Melbourne's fortunes, the message it will send to the rest of the league regarding hiring difference either in age, elite playing background or even gender will be compelling enough that such appointments might become commonplace in the future. 

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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