The mid to late 2000s were tumultuous for North Melbourne. Financially haemorrhaging and fractured within its operations, the AFL was desperate to move it to the Gold Coast. A new chairman, new CEO and new coach somehow gained stability - for eight years, anyway. But the Roos are back in a vulnerable place. A new coach, new CEO and new footy operations boss are about to team up with a chairman, who along with a former director, has ruthlessly applied a figurative flamethrower to operations – actions they deemed not just necessary but crucial to the future. Once again – yet again - it is make or break time for the Roos. And while it was Gold Coast last time, it is Tasmania this time, when it comes to the AFL's geographical foothold plans. DAMIAN BARRETT delves deep into the club's latest turmoil.
IT'S THE halfway point of the 2016 season.
North Melbourne, coming off preliminary final finishes in 2014 and 2015, has just defeated Richmond by 70 points in Hobart and is a game clear on top of the ladder with a 10-1 scoreline.
Nick Dal Santo slots a goal as Trent Cotchin watches during North's win over Richmond in 2016. Picture: AFL Photos
Eleven matches later, the Roos have won just twice more. Club icon Brent Harvey, along with the equally loved Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo have all had their careers ended in decisions which may have been right but embarrassingly poorly delivered to the individuals and public.
FULL FIXTURE Every round, every game
That year's flag is won by the Western Bulldogs. Richmond wins in 2017, a season in which North finishes 15th and re-contracts its coach Brad Scott all the way through to the end of 2020.
Less than half that deal later, early in the 2019 season, Scott is exited. At the same time, North Melbourne chairman Ben Buckley decides the chief executive officer and general manager of football, Carl Dilena and Cam Joyce, will also be departing.
Financial arrangements pertaining to Scott, Dilena and assistant coach Leigh Tudor, who has also parted, will tally about $1.5 million on the 2020 books.
That is serious impost for Ben Amarfio, even before he walks in to the club later this month as its new CEO.
New North Melbourne CEO Ben Amarfio. Picture: Getty Images
North Melbourne is heading into the future with three new faces in its three key administrative positions - Amarfio, Rhyce Shaw as coach and Brady Rawlings as general manager of football.
The regularly struggling club - the one which took 50 years to win its first VFL premiership, which was forced into a private ownership structure in the 1980s as a last-resort survival project, which the AFL was desperate to move to the Gold Coast in the late 2000s – is again in a vulnerable state.
AFL headquarters has been an interested, and occasionally concerned, observer of the North Melbourne goings-on this year.
That the AFL needs to, after 2021 when deals to play games in Tasmania by North Melbourne (Hobart) and Hawthorn (Launceston) expire, finally and emphatically resolve its own business strategy in the Apple Isle is both a worrying and exciting backdrop for the Roos as they attempt to work their way out of their latest period of uncertainty.
There is clearly a deal to be made for North in Tasmania, a potentially lucrative one which could see the club maintain an 11 "home" game arrangement in Melbourne as well as servicing eight or nine matches in Hobart and Launceston.
North Melbourne has been playing home games at Blundstone Arena since 2012. Picture: AFL Photos
Unless the club quickly regains authoritative control of its own operations, though, any deal will be made on its behalf.
The AFL has provided public encouragement to a consortium seeking a fresh licence for the state. But it is far from convinced that a new licence is the solution for the region.
WE RANK YOUR FIXTURE Pros, cons, circle it, who got a raw deal?
Hawthorn is believed to be open to an exit provided it gets financial encouragement to do so, in order to partially fund its new facility at Dingley.
Which would leave North Melbourne as the focus of AFL plans outside Victoria. Again.
In late May after removing Scott, North Melbourne ordered a football department review, conducted by then-Roos board member Brian Walsh, ex-director Glenn Archer and former KPMG chairman Peter Nash.
Even as that review was unfolding, Archer, who had recently stepped off the North board, and Buckley instigated approaches and offers to ex-North players and recent premiership coaches in Adam Simpson, Alastair Clarkson and John Longmire.
Former players Alastair Clarkson and John Longmire turned down approaches to coach the Roos. Picture: AFL Photos
The questions had to be asked. All said no, despite telephone number financial incentives. Just as big-name players like Dustin Martin, Josh Kelly, Jordan De Goey and others had done. Tom Lynch wouldn't even take a phone call.
The outcome of the initial review revealed a need to focus on culture and football, and an initial round of interviews for the CEO position saw ex-Fremantle CEO Steve Rosich emerge as a frontrunner.
SIMPSONS, SEINFELD, MEMES Which club's fixture reveal is best?
But some powerbrokers demanded a re-think.
Former North player and director Mark Brayshaw, currently CEO of the AFL Coaches Association, was always in the picture too, his mix of knowing the club intricately and intimately, as well as ticking the boxes of culture and football, making him a strong candidate.
Subsequent analysis of its situation then swung focus back to commercial and corporate facets, where Amarfio, who was a very popular boss of Triple M for five years and also drove the extraordinary financial deals secured by Australian cricket when in senior management at Cricket Australia, presented as the person for the future.
Rhyce Shaw made an immediate impression after taking over from Brad Scott. Picture: AFL Photos
Just as Shaw had done to Buckley and Archer when he started winning matches after taking over from Scott.
North believes the appointment of Shaw will be proven to be a masterstroke, and he has impressed every single person at the club, partially due to a highly unusual quality for a person holding a senior position in AFL clubland – that of being refreshingly prepared to openly concede deficiencies in his make-up.
He is said to be well aware of shortcomings, but fastidiously committed to rectifying all of them, and has already been lauded for an inclusive all-club approach.
20 MUST-SEE GAMES Put these juicy matches in calendar
In 2016, when James Brayshaw's nine seasons as chairman expired and Buckley took over, there was a clear change in outlook, an appetite to focus on the now and to not be burdened by potential future ramifications relating to those decisions.
A 12-win 2018 season not only exceeded expectations, but gave Buckley confidence his outlook was right. Another recruiting spree was ordered, which secured Jared Polec, Aaron Hall, Dom Tyson and Jasper Pittard.
Scott's view of list management didn't match Buckley's, and when he presented to the North Melbourne board in May this year, so strong was he that the Roos needed to think deeply into the future that some directors felt he was saying to them that he wanted out.
He didn't. He was simply seeking clarity and thorough consideration on the future direction of the football department. But the fact he was asking questions led some to believe he was not sufficiently demonstrating a desire to continue.
>> The 2019 NAB AFL Draft runs from November 27-28. Follow all the latest news in the draft hub
Scott knew early in 2019 that he wouldn't be serving the 2020 year of his deal, and had privately prepared with Dilena an amicable and well-planned separation, quite possibly with Shaw as the nominated successor.
But Buckley moved in the week leading into the round 10 match against Western Bulldogs, thus ending plans for an orderly exit.
Brad Scott and Ben Buckley chat to the media after the former's departure in May. Picture: AFL Photos
At that stage, Roos directors felt Scott would be coaching another club in 2020. Some were convinced it would be St Kilda, but a couple felt it would be Carlton.
Instead, in 2020 Scott is likely to be immersed in a wide-ranging, strategically significant role with the AFL.
PHANTOM FORM GUIDE Cal Twomey's October update
Of equal significance to the Tasmania project for Amarfio is a need to secure for the Roos a sizeable chunk of land and freehold opportunities within the massive redevelopment of the suburb of North Melbourne and its train stations.
The past six months have been tumultuous for North as Buckley and Archer set about blowing up a past they had both had a say in as directors of the club.
They were convinced massive change was required and as stakeholders had rights to enforce it.
The future is on their heads, more than it is the three newbies – Shaw, Amarfio and Rawlings.