North Melbourne’s history is full of elite, era defining goal kickers, with Wayne Carey, Malcolm Blight, John Longmire and Jock Spencer immediately springing to mind.
However, there’s one feat that none of the above club legends achieved. One that has only occurred three times in North’s history. Kicking five goals in a grand final.
Remarkably, two of those three occasions were achieved by the same man. Arnold Briedis.
Briedis first achieved this feat in 1975, with his five-goal haul inspirational in North’s drought-ending victory over Hawthorn.
In 1977, Briedis kicked 7 behinds in the drawn Grand Final with Collingwood, but found his form in front of goal for the replay, repeating his five-goal effort from just two years before as he led his team to premiership glory once again.
Having played such a crucial role in North’s dominant 70’s era with 161 games and 279 goals, the one club man has every right to be recognised as one of the greatest to ever pull on the royal blue and white stripes.
Starting his playing career in 1972 when the club won just one game, he ended his time in the VFL 11 years later as a bona fide club legend, with two well-earned premiership medals draped around his neck.
This is North Media’s, ‘Where Are They Now?’
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I want to start with the 1977 grand final, or grand finals I guess. After you kicked 7 behinds in the draw how did you manage to get yourself back into the mindset to put in arguably a match winning performance the very next week?
There are some days you play football and you just don’t get the opportunity. At least I was getting the ball even if I didn’t do much with it. There were some promising signs that I actually did manage to get the ball a few times. My kicking left a lot to be desired but the week after I just went through the normal routine and hope that the work you’ve done finishes in a goal. It worked for me a lot better on that day and it ended up being a pretty good afternoon.
You saved a lot of your best performances for finals footy and you were North’s leading goal kicker in finals up until the 1990’s when Wayne Carey broke that record. How proud of that record were you, and can you remember how it felt when you realised Carey had overtaken you in that metric?
If it takes a bloke by the name of Wayne Carey to beat you in something then I think you’ve done a pretty good job. It’s my personal opinion, and I know a lot of people agree with me, but I think he’s the best player in my time that I’ve seen at North. I thought David Dench and Keith Grieg were the best two that I played with, and then 20 years later a young bloke by the name of Wayne Carey came along and I reckon if he’s not in the best three players of all time I must be a bad judge. To be second to him in anything is pretty satisfying actually, but records are there to be broken. If you couldn’t play well in finals with the big crowds watching on the main stage, if you couldn’t play in front of over 80,000 and couldn’t get a kick then there’d be something wrong I would’ve thought. Some players thrive on that, other players find it difficult, but I always used to like to play in front of the big crowds and hopefully get a kick occasionally.
In those two premierships that you played in, obviously coached by the legendary figure that is Ron Barassi, what impact did he have not just on your footballing career around the club, but also in your life outside of football?
He was like a father figure to me. He had a huge impact not just on myself but on the club. As history shows in 1972, my first year at the Kangas, we won one game. We beat South Melbourne and they also beat us. It was like winning the premiership winning that one game, then in ’73 Barassi came, there were a lot of personnel changes. He couldn’t accept defeat, even if it was a practice match. He just instilled in us that there’s a winning culture and there’s a losing culture. At that time in the early 70’s we had a losing culture but that soon changed. ’73 we just missed the finals, ’74 we were completely embarrassed by Richmond, especially in the second half of our first grand final in that particular era. In ’75 it would have taken a very special team to beat us. Barassi had 12 months at it, there were a heap of personnel changes because he said ‘well you have to give everybody a chance’, but he was a pretty hard taskmaster, but he got results. We were a bit unfortunate in that era too because we played in six grand finals in a row. ’74 we weren’t good enough, ’75 we were the best team by far, ’76 there were a few injuries and you can’t blame then but I didn’t play because I had my knee done, Keith Greig and Brent Croswell hardly played a game, Barassi played them in the grand final, their condition gave and Hawthorn beat us, ’77 we gave Collingwood a chance to beat us and they didn’t so we repaid them in the replay, ’78 Krakouer got reported and missed the grand final and Don Scott was a huge difference in that game, we got beaten by Hawthorn again. It wasn’t a hiding and one player doesn’t necessarily make a difference but when Mick Nolan was our one and only ruckman from thereafter and Don Scott gave poor Mick the run around and Hawthorn won the premiership. With a bit of luck we could have easily, easily won those four grand finals. Had we and we would probably be called one of the greatest sides of all time. To answer your question, Barassi expected a lot, he gave you an opportunity providing you learnt by your mistakes, and it wasn’t just about playing on the ground. If he wants you off the ground you’re not thinking about yourself, you get to training on time, you think about your teammates, the supporters, all the staff, we were all in it together and we were the ones that made it happen on the ground, but a lot of people within the football club makes it successful. From the boot scrubber to the president, we’ve all got a role to play and providing you did that Barassi was a hard taskmaster but he got the results. I’m very thankful that Ron Barassi has been a part of my life. We still keep in contact, he’s a unique character and I think if you ask Wayne Carey what his thoughts are on Dennis Pagan he’d probably give the same accolades. Dennis probably demanded a lot from the players and he got the results just as Barassi got the results in the 70’s. It’s been a long time since our last premiership and I hope the young ones in the next couple of years get the opportunities the Wayne Carey’s and Malcolm Blight’s had in their playing days. I wish the young blokes of today all the success, it’s a little bit difficult at the minute but we’ve got the opportunity to pick some of the best talent going over the next couple of years and you’d hope in the next four or five years to see the Kangaroos back up vying for a premiership. They’re not easy to get, but with a bit of planning and a bit of luck it all starts from there. We’ve got a nucleus of a pretty good side, they just need a bit more experience. The Cunnington’s and Goldstein’s have been great stalwarts of the club but the young guys now have an opportunity to put their hands up and hopefully in the next few years start playing in the finals and hopefully another grand final win for the Kangas.
Is there any player on the list at the moment that reminds you of how you used to play in your playing days?
Cunnington, he’s in and under and never gives up. I love the way he plays, but you have to have all sorts of players to make a great team. Of course you have to have your superstars, in our day we had a whole team of them basically, but there were a few battlers and that’s what makes a great team. You’d get into our forward line and we had Kekovich, Doug Wade, Malcolm Blight, Brent Croswell on occasions, Phil Baker, myself as well, on any given given day any of those players could kick five or six goals. There were times there where we all contributed and there was many a time we kicked 25 or more goals in a game. I like to young ones but Ben Cunnington is just a ripper, I love the way he plays. The game has changed today, some of the aspects around bumping and some of the ways you tackle are now forbidden, it makes it more difficult because, and Leigh Matthews was the perfect example, if you had your head over the ball and he hit you, you’d stay hit. If you got hit in the head you stayed hit. We do play a contact sport and you can’t be throwing elbows and forearms and knocking people in the head because that’s not what the game is about, but once upon a time if you did get someone in the head it could be a pretty lethal weapon to have.
Unfortunately playing footy can’t last forever, so what have you been doing career wise since you finished up playing?
I was fortunate that when we didn’t get paid a lot seeing as the sport wasn’t professional in those days. Shane Zantuck and I formed a sports store at 21 years of age and that served us well. We had one to ten stores, then we started franchising it with Robbie Flower and a couple of other blokes, we owned the master franchise of Sportsco, and then in 2005 that was sold to a Malaysian gentleman and since then I actually haven’t done very much at all, I’m virtually retired.
Were there any lessons that you learnt in footy that you took into life outside of the game, especially starting up a successful business so young?
We didn’t have much to lose except our pride, but Barassi and football taught me some very good skills. I’ve been married for 43 years, I’ve got two kids. A lot comes down to getting to work on time, getting to football on time, you can’t just pick and choose when you want to turn up. If the shop opened at 9:00am you didn’t get there at 9:05am, you got there at 8:30am, it was the same with training. I was fortunate that I’d leave the shop at 3pm so I could do all my weights before training even started. Those life skills like discipline, thinking about other people, there was many a time where we were crying for customers to come into the store, and even though it turned out exceptionally well there was a lot of hard work and a bit of luck. Barassi said if you have a lazy mind you become a lazy player and lazy person. With him you were at school, uni or work. There was no lounging around because a healthy body has a healthy mind. The mind needs to be activated and if you didn’t use it you’d become lazy. He always said if you become a lazy person you’ll be a lazy footballer and he didn’t want those around the football club. We were fortunate and football does open a huge array of doors for you. Especially today if you can keep your nose clean, keep our of trouble and just play your football, you don’t have to be the best player but if you can play 10 years of AFL football with some of the pay rates these players are getting today, it sets you up for life. You have to take that opportunity because it can soon bypass you. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to go through your football life without and injury, I can assure you of that, it’s certainly cut throat and it is a business. There are that many players that want to play at the top level and only a finite number of spots to fill.
You’ve spoken glowingly about your time at North and under Ron Barassi, but if you could sum up your time at North Melbourne in a few sentences, how would you?
I played my first league game at 15. I didn’t play any under 17’s and it became a huge part of my life. We were really very fortunate to be in an era where we could win North Melbourne’s first VFL premiership and have some greats like Allan Aylett and Albert Mantello around the club. They were great players and great people in their own right but they hadn’t had the success that we had. We were fortunate and we don’t take those things for granted. If you go and ask Bob Skilton or some of the other great players who never played in a grand final or been a part of a winning grand final, they’d give up a lot to achieve what we did. They are difficult to win, they’re not given away and you have to give the likes of Richmond, Hawthorn, Brisbane and Geelong sides of recent years credit, because they’ve been some great sides for a long period of time as North were in the 70’s and the 90’s. Since then it’s been a bit of a lean time. In a nutshell, it’s part of your life. We didn’t really appreciate what we achieved at the time because of Barassi’s mentality. If we played in finals we were going to again the year after that, and the year after that, and so on. We placed that expectation on ourselves, and it wasn’t just about running out there. He’d be filthy when we lost because he wanted to in everything, even though you can’t. He said while we had the team we did, we had to make the most of it. I was very, very fortunate that we had blokes like Ron Joseph, he’s like another father figure to me. You don’t forget those kinds of people, I actually rang Ron Joseph the other day for the first time in a long time. If I don’t start ringing some of these blokes I might lose the opportunity to. My time at the Kangaroos was pretty special. Some people had been supporting the club for 60 years, and to see us actually win a grand final was pretty good. It’s a special club, the old Shinboners.
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