When a player of the skill, experience and gravitas of Robbie Tarrant leaves your club, it takes a number of players to step into the breach to fill the void left behind.
An absolute pillar of North Melbourne’s defence for over half a decade, Tarrant has traded royal blue and white for yellow and black, leaving Arden Street for Richmond after 174 games.
Through Tarrant’s absence at the start of the season, North fans caught a glimpse of what would end up becoming the future, seeing Ben McKay capably step up and take on the best key-forward each week.
With the emergence of McKay and Josh Walker, Aidan Corr returning from injury and Matt McGuinness steadily improving, list manager Glenn Luff believes North already has the personnel to help cover for the loss of Tarrant.
“Your initial reaction to losing someone like Robbie is ‘we’d better replace him’. There’s a lot of players in that delisted free agent space around 28 or older, but once we sat down and assessed we felt it was an opportunity to develop someone a bit younger,” Luff said on the recent Member Q & A, presented by AIA Vitality.
“Aidan Corr is like a new recruit for us, he played the two games but 12 months ago he arrives as a free agent. [He’s an] absolute animal competitor who can play tall or small.
“Ben McKay’s had an outstanding couple of years, [and] Josh Walker’s been great for us since arriving.
“We’ve had Matt McGuinness for a couple of years who we drafted as a key-defender, and he’s shot up to around the 197-centimetre mark.
“Our thinking after the initial decision from Robbie was let’s not panic and just bring in someone to fill a hole. We’re in a position where we can develop someone in that position.”
It’s not just the key-position defensive players who North’s recruitment team are looking to step up in the absence of Tarrant though.
The nature of the current AFL landscape means backs are rarely contained to just the one matchup all game long.
Luff says the club needs to ensure it maintains versatility and speed in the defence.
“You need those guys who can play on all types,” he said.
“Aidan Bonar has played tall as well, [and] even Lachie Young.
“It’s important that the backline is pretty flexible now. I just don’t think you can go too tall or too small.”
While it will be tough for fans and the club alike to see Tarrant in a Richmond jumper, North did everything its power to keep him.
“When we’re looking at contracting our players age comes into it, and at the start of the year Robbie was also out with an adductor [injury] for a period of time, and then obviously had his surgery as well,” GM of Football Brady Rawlings said.
“It wasn’t until the second half of the year he got back to playing football … that’s when we started talking more about the future with Robbie.
“We’ve seen plenty of players come through on one-year contracts in the twilight stage of their career, I think ‘Boomer’ (Brent Harvey) might have had seven of them.
“Once we got to the pointy end of discussions we did extend it out to two [years] on the offer for Robbie, and he made a decision to look elsewhere. That’s obviously his decision to make as an unrestricted free agent, that’s his prerogative.
“All I can say is that he's been an absolutely massive player for our club. He's been a leader. He's been a best and fairest winner. He's very stiff not to be an All-Australian player in his time at North Melbourne … hopefully he can have a good transition across to Richmond and play some good footy there.”
To see our recruiting team discuss the trade for Callum Coleman-Jones, the development of Jacob Edwards, draft prospect Jason Horne-Francis, and more, tune into our latest Member Q & A, presented by AIA.