REALITY bites, and reality has descended on North Melbourne.
It is, indeed, the ordinarily performed club it has been for the past four seasons, and not the one that it so desperately wanted to be when it sacked Brad Scott as coach.
Four losses in a row, very few consistently performing players, and a fixture with matches still to come against six of the first seven listed teams on bookmakers' charts for this year's premiership – reigning premier Richmond (next Saturday night at Metricon Stadium), Collingwood, West Coast, Brisbane, Geelong and Port Adelaide.
There is no evident structure to the forward line. Full-forward Ben Brown has looked lost too many times this year, but the way North is bringing the ball into its 50m arc has been so shambolic that even Wayne Carey would've struggled for impact in 2020.
North was without Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell and Jed Anderson from its best 22 in the loss to the Bombers. But the Bombers were without Dyson Heppell, Jake Stringer and Joe Daniher.
Curtis Taylor, Tarryn Thomas and Jack Mahony, who has a genuine, old-fashioned crack, are bright lights for the future for North.
In 2020, Todd Goldstein has been very solid, Jy Simpkin has progressed, Luke McDonald has transformed himself as a tagger with impressive shutdown jobs on Marcus Bontempelli and Dylan Shiel, and Cam Zurhaar, despite a couple of quiet games, has given everything he's got.
Robbie Tarrant has been more than OK, too, but because of the dysfunction of his team, has been unable to play at his near-All Australian optimum.
New coach Rhyce Shaw is now 18 matches into his time in charge of North, with a 9-9 scoreline. After 10 seasons, Scott finished with a 106-105 scoreline.
THE LADDER Where is your team sitting?
After Roos chairman Ben Buckley and Glenn Archer sacked Scott last year, they were buoyed by the new feel at the club under Shaw.
This is not criticism of Shaw, but 10 months later, the same problems still exist. Against Essendon, eight players – Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard, Aaron Hall, Shaun Higgins, Paul Ahern, Josh Walker, Tom Campbell and Marley Williams – had played previously with other clubs. Another four are on the list. Higgins has been a very good player for North since 2015, but has had little impact in 2020.
North has two picks in the first round of this year's national draft – it has access to Melbourne's first pick after a trade last year – but unless it properly identifies high-end, fresh talent with those selections, the Shaw era will seemingly continue to follow the Scott one down a 50-50 path.
Watch out. The Bombers are coming
Hand up if back in March you had the Bombers after five matches at 4-1, with the one loss by just one point.
THE LADDER Where is your team sitting?
Can't see any. Mine certainly wasn't up.
With a match up its sleeve due to the postponed game back in round three, Essendon is beautifully positioned. Its Saturday night win against North was a mere 14-point win on the scoreboard, but it was the victory of a very composed, little-fussed team.
Jordan Ridley's development in the backline is emerging as a great storyline of 2020. Andrew McGrath is now crucial to this team, it's great to see Devon Smith fit again, Will Snelling just runs all match, Darcy Parish has realised he belongs, and while he didn’t have major influence on the weekend, there's something compelling about the way Brayden Ham plays.
NINE THINGS WE LEARNED New-look Saints, same old problems
Wait until they get back Jake Stringer and Dyson Heppell. And maybe even big Joe.
Nothing compelling about safety-first Hawks
Surely by now, everyone has realised the motives behind Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson's whinge about the state of the game in late June.
Surely, we're all aware it was a self-indulgent rant aimed at diverting attention away from the way he is choosing to coach the Hawks in 2020?
Hawthorn's game style this year is unwatchable. It is safety first, sideways movement second. It is suffocating, the three-goal performance in Friday night's loss to Collingwood following a seven-goal return in round five's equally lamentable loss to GWS.
He's a genius, Clarkson, and he might yet turn around this 3-3 season. But unless he shines the state-of-the-game torch back on his own actions, and seeks to empower his players with a licence to attack, for the neutral football observer, there will be no need to make Hawthorn matches appointment viewing in 2020.
Kenny's sense of fun just the tonic for 2020 chaos
In an industry where most people refuse to publicly be themselves, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley presents as an old-fashioned alternative.
His preparedness to stand isolated in the middle of the Power's post-match team song, and then cop the liquid spray, after Sunday's big win against GWS, was so Kenny.
Just as he used to playfully tell his Geelong backline teammates in the 1990s to mind his opponent while he went and sought three Brownlow Medal votes, as coach of the Power for the past eight seasons, Hinkley has never diverted too far from being himself.
It's been a chequered run for him in that position, a preliminary final finish in his second season way back in 2014 has been followed up by just one finals appearance – a losing one, in 2017 – since.
The 2020 premiership is going to be won by the most resilient set of individuals ever seen in the AFL. Hinkley's self-effacing, never-take-yourself-too-seriously ways may yet prove to be the best tool a coach of a good team can possess this year.
At 5-1 in a 17-game season, and with a percentage of 164.6, surely Kenny and the Power are going back to the finals, at the very, very least.