North Melbourne has signalled the end of an era at Arden Street, announcing that four veterans, including AFL games record-holder Brent Harvey, will not be offered contracts for 2017.
The decision to cut all four – also including forward Drew Petrie, midfielder Nick Dal Santo and defender Michael Firrito – came as something of a shock, as clubs often stagger the departure of older players to maintain the structure of a playing list.
North Melbourne coach Brad Scott said it was a heartbreaking decision to make.
“The decision has been made in the best interests of the football club at heart,” he said.
Given the nature of the club’s decision, the Kangaroos had to make it public to allow a home farewell for the quartet against GWS this weekend, since North appears likely to play its first final in Sydney against the Giants.
The biggest question mark over the announcement relates to Harvey, the 21-year, one-club veteran, who four weeks ago broke the seemingly unbreakable record of Hawthorn’s Michael Tuck, playing his 427th AFL game.
Whenever speculation mounts about veterans coming to the end of their careers, it is usually because that player has lost pace or mobility or goal-scoring ability, depending on their role within a team.
With Harvey, his great strength has always been his pace and vision, combined with an ability to read the play and a ferocity at the ball.
Despite the fact that Harvey is 38, those strengths have still been apparent this season – he has been North’s leading player in a number of games, and since the bye he has averaged 24.3 disposals, four marks, 2.6 tackles, just under two clearances, four inside 50s and just over a goal a game.
Speaking before he broke Tuck’s record, Harvey left everyone in no doubt of his desire to carry on into a 22nd season.
Call on players signals rebuild at North
The decision by North Melbourne means that the club is saying goodbye to 1337 games of AFL experience.
The Kangaroos will go in as underdogs into their elimination final, and are not expected to repeat their results of the last two seasons.
But the release of the quartet makes it likely that North as a club is entering a period of rebuilding, rather than challenging for the flag.
The Kangaroos have been building for a serious tilt at the title for a number of seasons.
In 2012, North had a strong run to make the finals in eighth place, but were thrashed by West Coast in Perth to end the year.
The following year the Kangaroos slid and missed the finals, finishing in 10th place.
Things changed in 2014, when the club finished the home and away season in sixth, then won two finals before bowing out to Sydney in the preliminary final.
In 2015, a couple of late losses left North in eighth once again, but wins against Richmond and Sydney brought the team to another prelim, this time losing to West Coast.
Finally this season, thanks to a favourable draw and a strong start, the Kangaroos won their first nine games of 2016 – as hope emerged that this would finally be the breakthrough season for North.
However six losses in the club’s next seven matches took the gloss off the year.
North steadied with wins over Collingwood and St Kilda, but a hat-trick of losses to finals rivals Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Sydney dented morale going into September – and may have forced the club’s hand into making the call on Harvey and others for 2017.