1036 players, 60 individual best and fairest winners, 37 full-time captains. These are the numbers that show just how difficult it is to leave a legacy at North Melbourne.
Of all the players to have played for North, from our first Shinboner Harry Clapson, to our latest in Eddie Ford, less than 6 per cent go on to to win a best and fairest, while less than 4 per cent go onto captain the club.
Numbers like this help provide clarity and context surrounding the careers of the likes of Matthew Larkin, a mainstay and star for North sides in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
172 games, three Syd Barker Medals in four years, captain for three seasons and even winner of Goal of the Year in 1988, Larkin is one of North’s all-time greats.
Despite the long list of honours, he found himself stuck between North’s two greatest eras, and premiership glory eluded him.
Coming up through the under 19’s, debuting in 1984 and finishing up in 1993, Larkin is a one club man who bleeds royal blue and white and helped lay the foundations for North’s successes in 1996 and 1999.
This is North Media’s, ‘Where Are They Now?’
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Your final season for North was 1993 and the club finished third, what caused your time at the club to end just a few years before a premiership?
"I trained in 1994 and found myself in the reserves early on in that season, so I was at the club for the start of that season and then I left halfway through. I felt I wasn’t really in the frame at the time so I just decided to move on basically. I always thought that side would be a chance again, no doubt, and unfortunately the timing wasn’t great for me. I wasn’t playing my best footy and that’s just the way it went. I don’t regret doing anything when I left the club, retiring from VFL footy or AFL footy at the time. I just moved on to the next chapter really."
You made your debut in Round 13, 1984 against Footscray and went on to play every game for the rest of the season. With two Brownlow votes in your second game, why did it take so long for you to get in the side in what was a tough season for North?
"Good question. That was my first year after under 19’s and we had quite a successful campaign in the under 19’s even though we lost the grand final. I felt like I belonged more so at that level in my last year of under 19’s. I didn’t realise that under 19’s to reserves wasn’t a huge jump, but certainly to the seniors it was. I had a few injuries at the start of that year and it took me a while to string a few games together. I didn’t really string a lot of games together in that early part and I found when I got my game, I played a few good games in the reserves and I ended up with my turn to have a crack. I wanted to make the most of it from memory. When I was young I just really enjoyed the contest, enjoyed probably being at my best and playing at my best every week I could. That drove me a lot."
Over the course of your career North’s ladder position was pretty inconsistent. Was there ever any prospect of you leaving the club to chase a premiership at any point?
"Nope. I never even spoke to another club. I was quite happy to be a one club player, and really being from the area and going through the under 19’s it never really entered my mind to tell you the truth. I was always under contract and comfortable with what I was doing. I was pretty young, getting paid to play league footy, I had a part time job and I was probably thinking that was pretty good. I didn’t like many of the other clubs to tell you the truth!"
Looking at modern day footy at the moment there doesn’t look to be as many one club players as your era. Do you have any thoughts as to why that might be?
"By the time you get to a club you’re only really playing VFL now. I think the under 19’s thing makes you feel more part of the club earlier. Going up through that system and playing under Pagan, everything was North Melbourne. By the time you got to the seniors it was such a big deal you were trying to get your foot in the door and prove yourself at that level. Moving just wasn’t really on. I suppose there are a lot of players that move now. There’s a bit more money in it now and it’s probably easier to move clubs. Players probably chase success more than what we did in our day, but it just wasn’t really the done thing. I was always pretty loyal and I’m fairly proud of that."
You took over as captain from John Law heading into the 1990 season. How did being club captain compare to other honours you received over your career.
"It was definitely the biggest honour and the only thing that would have beaten that would have been playing in a premiership team which I probably, well I don’t regret, but I wish I had have done. I had to step up and I was captain for three years. They weren’t great years, I was sort of waning a bit with my form, but I’m still glad to say I did it now if people ask. All the individual glories, I had a few as you can see by the record, but at the time I took it in my stride and didn’t worry about it too much, but I’m glad I did it now."
You talk about individual glories, three Syd Barker Medals in four season is a pretty decent effort. What does it mean to you being looked at and spoken about as one of the all-time great North players?
"I was fairly shy when I was younger and probably didn’t get involved in any hype too much, but certainly now since I’ve had kids and coached kids in footy, their parents remember you so you’re lucky in a way that the kids sort of respect you because the parents have told them about the past. I don’t dwell on it a lot. Sometimes I think it was so long ago and I’m so far removed from being an AFL footballer it’s not funny, but sometimes you get reminded of it and you remember some of the things you’ve achieved and it’s a part of my life I really enjoyed and can look back upon very fondly even though we didn’t get the ultimate glory. We were ok, we were in the middle of the road a lot and we played in a few finals campaigns and even though we were down the bottom a couple of times we didn’t win a wooden spoon or anything. It’s pretty hard when you’re down the bottom like the boys are now, but there’s something to look forward to, you can see that coming. I think it is hard when you’re down the bottom and things can go against the club and captain of the time. I probably felt that a little bit when I was captain and unfortunately that’s the way it was. There were various reasons for it, everything from recruiting to injuries to coaching to fixtures, and better players were starting to come through. Carey had just started. If he’d been five years earlier the whole thing could have been different."
Speaking of Carey, he took over as captain from you. There was a bit of a succession plan when Jack Ziebell took over from Andrew Swallow, when Carey was named captain did you do anything to help him in that position? Were you still involved in the leadership of the group?
"Not really, I wasn’t there a long time. I was there for a year and a half after that. He took the mantle in his stride as he did, and he was a pretty confident sort of kid back then, even at the age of 21 or 22. He didn’t need too much help, and with the way he played it’s what the club needed at the time. He was always going to find his way into the captaincy and it didn’t take him long to become on of the great captains. I didn’t have any problem with handing the captaincy over at the start of ’93. I was just trying to hang on myself and I was probably grateful in a way that I wasn’t captain anymore. I had no problems with it at all. I can always say he captained after me and I’ve always got that on him!"
You mentioned the current playing group before, so I’m guessing you’d still consider yourself to be a fan of the club?
"Oh yeah I watch every week pretty closely. I probably spend too much time watching AFL footy and getting my mind around who could be drafted, what North needs, whether we’re making the right decisions. I don’t get critical in the public forum but I’m a fan who gets into it a bit with other people I know who follow footy. I’m pretty keen on it though."
Are there any players on the list at the moment that might remind you of yourself from your playing days, or you just enjoy watching?"
Not really, I don’t really try to compare since my time was so long ago. Because you’re doing it at the time you don’t really see yourself doing it if that makes sense, I haven’t spent a lot of time watching clips of myself to compare. The thing that I like now is obviously they’ve got some of the better players back in now and some of the young kids will be a lot better from playing in this transition to become league footy players. I enjoy Cunnington when he’s fit, no doubt. He’s probably one of the best players for North that’s really ever been around, especially in the midfield. There wouldn’t be too many better than him. The circles I’m in with football always talk about him. I think the other clubs would all like to have him."
If you could sum up your time at North in a few sentences, how would you?
"That’s an interesting one, I’ve never done that. I would say I tried my best, won some games, lost some games, got some individual success out of it but not the ultimate team success and I’m still comfortable with what I did 25 years after the fact."
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