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North Melbourne can turn things around quickly without complete rebuild

A decade ago, a club in North Melbourne’s position would have been bracing itself for several years of pain as part of a gradual build towards another crack at the ultimate success further down the line.

The start of a slide down the ladder after consecutive preliminary finals and a dramatic clean-out of senior players would have been stark pointers to a period that would involve bottoming-out and diving head-first into the draft.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Not anymore.

Changes to the competition structure, including restricted access to top picks at compromised drafts during the northern expansion phase, forced a re-think in recent times.

And the advents of free agency and greater flexibility at the trade table, with the ability to exchange future draft picks, have opened up new avenues through which to spark rapid regeneration.

It’s a school of thought that gave birth to a new Ross Lyonism – to “re-stump, re-wire and re-plumb” your list, as opposed to completely rebuilding it.

And it’s one premiership-winning Geelong coach Chris Scott has been a strong advocate of while trying to keep his team in flag contention.

Just six of Scott’s 2011 premiership team remain on the list.

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Among the departed are a host of stars from Mark Thompson’s multiple flag-winning reign.

Yet the Cats have missed the finals just once since then, and have turned over 50 per cent of their squad in the past 18 months.

Geelong have recruited via a combination of the trade table, draft and free agency, and feel regeneration does not have come at the expense of challenging.

Scott likened the process to trying to “beat the handicapper”, saying the AFL’s stringent equalisation measures no longer meant choosing between shots at short and long-term success.

“That’s an outdated list management philosophy in our view,” Scott said.

“The capacity to build for the longer term while also giving us some short-term benefit with free agents or selective trades has been much more available in the last four or five years than it was before.”

Critics have written off North Melbourne’s finals hopes this season, predicting a dramatic tumble, starting with a loss to flag fancies West Coast in their season opener at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

While there may yet be a sharp decline in 2017 as a new-look team takes shape, it doesn’t mean the Kangaroos have to remain at the bottom in years to come.

To date, North haven’t been at the forefront of the conversation when it comes to high-profile free agency candidates Nat Fyfe and Dustin Martin.

But what’s to stop them having a crack? They will have the salary cap room.

Other lower-profile targets will no doubt come into play, as they did when the Kangaroos picked up Nathan Hrovat (Western Bulldogs), Marley Williams (Collingwood) and Paul Ahern (GWS) from other clubs at the end of last year.

The Kangaroos picked up former Magpie Marley Williams in the trade period. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
The Kangaroos picked up former Magpie Marley Williams in the trade period. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty ImagesPicture: Getty Images

Former North Melbourne and St Kilda champion Nick Dal Santo, who was among the stalwarts axed to make way for the next generation at the of last year, said a Kangaroos slide wasn’t a fait accompli.

“Particularly in the situation that North’s in, they’ve still got some really solid players and a core group led by Jack Ziebell in the middle,” Dal Santo said.

“I don’t think bottoming out necessarily has to occur or is a part of North Melbourne’s thinking at the moment.

“But the competition is just so competitive.

“You can play really good football, you can improve as a football club and your performances can be really solid on the field and you can still miss the eight.

“The really good teams navigate their way through that and they pick up free agents at the right time and are able to fill those gaps in their list.

“But there’s only so many clubs that can do that.

“The nature of the competition with 18 teams is that someone has to be on the bottom anyway.”

Chris Scott may well have discussed his list-management philosophy with twin brother Brad, who is entering his eighth season as North Melbourne coach.

The start of the 2017 AFL season is only four days away and Adam Simpson says the West Coast Eagles are ready to go.

Brad Scott boasts a 54 per cent winning record and is contracted until the end of next year, so has at least some time to plot the path forward.

And while there are some doubts over whether Scott is the man to lead the Kangaroos back to the lofty heights of 2014-15, Dal Santo has faith in the coach’s ability as a mentor.

“One thing that’s unknown about Brad is he’s a fantastic educator,” Dal Santo said.

“We’ve seen what he was like as a player, we’ve seen him when he’s really intense in the box as a coach.

“But the bit that you miss is the Monday to Friday.

“He’s very calm, he’s calculated, very composed.

“He gives across really articulate, precise messages and I think that will hold the boys in good stead.”

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