Former premiership player and coach Robert Walls had some idea what might have been going through North Melbourne coach Brad Scott’s mind moments after his Roos had lost the seemingly unlosable match to Adelaide on Sunday evening.
For a coach, a missed goal here, a failure to prevent one there, and a consequent narrow loss is the stuff of nightmare. Not that it’s much fun for the players, either, left slumped on the ground in disbelief at yet another episode of ”missed it by that much”.
No wonder Scott was prepared to concede ”a resounding no” to the question of whether his players were mentally tough enough. And that North skipper Andrew Swallow on Monday said the playing group had been left the ”flattest” he had ever seen it.
And Walls has seen it from both a coaching and playing perspective. As coach of Carlton, he led the Blues to the 1987 flag. They were third the following year. But in 1989, luck certainly wasn’t falling the Blues’ way.
They lost to St Kilda by two points at Moorabbin. Then to Melbourne by a goal at the MCG. And when Brisbane scored the unlikeliest of three-point victories in round 10, Walls not only lost some more life expectancy, but his job.
Not that the Blues started winning the close ones under his replacement, Alex Jesaulenko. In fact, Carlton would finish that year having lost five games by less than a goal and drawn another.
As a player a decade earlier with Fitzroy, Walls had seen it from another angle. Indeed, only one team has lost more close games than did the Lions in 1978. That was Footscray in 1950, which managed to lose seven games by single figure margins.
Fitzroy in 1978 wasn’t a bad side at all, managing to twice beat eventual premier Hawthorn. But as early as the halfway point of the season, the Lions had well and truly shot themselves in the foot.
Walls had left Carlton early that season for a second playing home at the Junction Oval. When he debuted in round 10, his new team had already lost games by eight, four, three and two points.
For a team that knew it had talent, the frustration was overwhelming. And it showed. ”I remember Bob Beecroft nearly strangling someone in that first game I played with them,” Walls chuckles.
”I didn’t really know the guys, and he’s got someone in a choker hold on the ground and the guy was turning white. I thought, ‘Bloody hell, he’s going to kill him’!”
Walls’ second game for the Lions was a six-point loss to Richmond. The following week, Fitzroy lost by three points to Geelong. After 11 rounds, Fitzroy was bottom of the ladder with a 2-9 record, yet only 32 points shy of a win-loss status of 8-3, enough to have it third.
Indeed, the Roys share an unwanted place on the list of most frequent losers of close games, having in four different seasons lost half-a-dozen games by single-figure margins.
But the latter-day North Melbourne is beginning to challenge for that status. Since the beginning of 2011, the Roos have been involved in no fewer than 13 games decided by single figures. They have won a paltry two, both last year, against Gold Coast and Richmond.
”Surely they have to do a lot of game simulation at training,” says Walls. ”It’s chip the ball around, take as much time as you can, kick it to the boundary, knock it out, get numbers around the stoppage and force another throw-up.
”I mean, these guys are full-time professionals. We used to do it in the days when you only trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights.”
Walls has one ray of hope to offer the shattered North Melbourne. That Fitzroy, after its series of nail-biting losses of 1978, managed to make the finals the following year.
”You just hope they learn from these near-misses. But gee, after what happened against West Coast and now this, it makes you think they haven’t learnt much!”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.