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Barassi brilliance: Part 5

August 4, 2017 7:40 PM

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In a week in which the club pays tribute to its 1977 premiership stars, it’s only fitting NMFC.com.au looks back at the amazing impact of the great coach Ron Barassi.

‘The Coach, A Season with Ron Barassi’ was penned by John Powers, who followed Barassi and the North team for the entire 1977 season, which culminated in the club’s second flag.

All the way until game day, we’ll be publishing excerpts from the book.

PART 1: The build-up | PART 2: Is it all over? | Part 3: Tied game | Part 4: Bouncing back

After already playing four finals, North Melbourne prepared for that one day in September, in October.

In North Melbourne's dressing-room, the players radiated the same mood of intense purposefulness that characterised them before the vital Richmond Semi-Final. Today, you felt, these players would die on their bayonets before they conceded defeat. 

Barassi himself seemed engulfed in the mounting tension. He couldn't remain still for longer than a few seconds at a time. His face looked uncharacteristically middle-aged - tight with strain. Nobody except the players could command his attention. 

Normally he paced among them (the players), urging them to get the mood right, but today that wasn't necessary - the mood in the room was electric as the players yelled to each other: "Everybody together today! ... Like brothers out there! ... Give them nothing! ... Come on! ... Let's be aggresstive today! ... Come! ... Make them chase us all day! ... Let's back everybody up! ... Big team effort!"

As the siren came closer, in the coach's room, Barassi's message was emphatic.

"More than any other game of football," he began, "a Grand Final is a game of fundamentals - of ability, of the mind and of fitness. We've got the ability, and we've got the fitness, so the only question is whether we are tough in the mind! And, by Christ, our record proves - surely! - that we bloody well are! ... Tougher than they are!"

The game got underway.

North gained the vital 'jump' - a goal and a behind, to lead by seven points to nil - but by the halfway mark of the first quarter, Collingwood, matching everything North threw at them in speed, skill and brute strength, levelled the scores at 2.1 (13) each. 

Gaining momentum and confidence, North surged forward to open up what appeared to be a winning lead of 36 points midway through the second quarter. But playing ferociously, Collingwood reduced the lead to 17 points and them, almost on the siren, to a mere 11 points. At half-time the scoreboard read North Melbourne 9.12 (66) to Collingwood 8.7 (55). 

Barassi rallied the troops at half-time.

"We have to put the kibosh on them this quarter!. This quarter is their big hope ... so I want everyone to marshal every fibre of force and energy within you, and pump it out ... for bloody North Melbourne and yourselves! I want that crowd out there to come alive - clapping and cheering - because the way you're playing deserves it." 

The players lifted.

North, reinvigorated by its coach, goaled in the first minute and continued to sweep the ball around the field and goalwards, but always against ferocious Collingwood resistance. With the crowd in full voice behind them, both teams lifted the contest to the level of the superlative. And, little by little, score by score, North crept ahead. By the end of the quarter, North had opened a 30-point lead.

Now the question was put squarely to Collingwood - could they fight back as North had the previous week? Their answer came emphatically - in less than 10 minutes of play they reduced the North Melbourne lead to a mere 12 points. Two kicks! 

A goal gave North Melbourne an 18-point lead with 18 minutes played - still not a winning margin. And even with a 21-point lead at the start of time-on, they still did not look safe. Collingwood continued to attack, still threatened. They goaled, but North immediately retaliated with a goal to keep its 21-point lead. 

Arnold Briedis extended the lead to 27 points minute later and it was game over. North Melbourne was the premier in 1977. 

After the celebrations on the ground, it was back to the rooms.

President, Lloyd Holyoak, congratulated them on their victory, which he said: "Would have to go down as the greatest and best Grand Final ever seen." And then, turning to Barassi, but still addressing the players, he said "I read in the papers just recently, 'You either love him or hate him', but there's no doubt about one thing - he only roasts you and gives you the blast for one reason, and that's to get the best out of you. You all know he's the greatest coach of all time - Ron Barassi!"

The players sung 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" as Barassi cried tears of joy.

"I just want to say," he told them very quietly, "that you've been absolutely fantastic today." He paused then for several seconds, again looking uncertain and troubled about which words he should choose, and how he should phrase them. But finally he made the effort: "I know I'm probably hard on you ..." 

"But look where it's got us!" John Cassin shouted gleefully, branding his bottle of champagne. 

"It's the only way!" Stan Alves endorsed.

Barassi's final message was succinct.

"As you think back on this day," he began tentatively, "which has been one of the great spectacles in Australian sport ... I hope you'll agree that all that hard work ... and all that shit put on you by the coach ... was worth it ... and I want you to know ... very sincerely ... that I love you all." 

The Coach, A Season with Ron Barassi, by John Powers, (Slattery Media Group, 2017). RRP $19.95. 

Available from participating bookshops, the North Melbourne Football Club, or books.slatterymedia.com.