With the way the AFL has evolved in recent years, a players’ ability to be versatile and contribute in all phases of the game has turned into an imperative part of forging a long and successful career at the top level.
Aaron Hall, one of North Melbourne’s best attacking ball users is now a defender. Luke McDonald has turned into a wingman who tracks back to help the defence, and Jack Mahony provides relentless defensive pressure in North’s attacking 50.
Much like Kayne Turner before him, Mahony’s prerogative is to get the ball from the bottom of packs and impact the opposition’s ability to effectively dispose of the ball from their defensive 50.
In short, he does the dirty work for the team to allow his teammates the perform at their best.
One man who has been a major benefactor of Mahony’s work is Cam Zurhaar, who says the key role he plays in the side cannot be underestimated.
“He doesn’t get many touches during the game, but his forward pressure is just massive for us,” Zurhaar told North Media.
“His constant harassment of the opposition in the forward line creates turnovers for us and really sets the tone for the whole team.
“He may not get rewarded with goals, but he gets rewarded through the clips we show at meetings and senior players patting him on the back.”
Mahony registered a game-high 30 pressure acts against Essendon in Round 18, while his team-high 25 pressure acts against West Coast were crucial in North overcoming the Eagles.
He ranks 12th in the AFL and 2nd amongst rising stars for total tackles inside 50 with 22 across 17 games, including 3 against the Bombers last week.
While the number 1 has shown flashes of his ability to be a defensive terrier throughout his young career, Zurhaar says his ability to bring that effort consistently has been a marked improvement in 2021.
“He’s always been in and under. That’s just the role he plays,” Zurhaar said.
“We’re really relying on him each week and he’s really established himself in our forward line.
“He’s taken his game to the next level this season by bringing that intensity week in week out, it’s just constant.”
With the final five games of the home and away season looming, North’s forward group seems to be improving every week.
With Zurhaar and Nick Larkey the leaders in the forward line at the age of just 23, North’s number 44 says he can’t wait for the club’s forward group to grow together.
“We’re a very young line and it’s very exciting to see what we can do … the more games we play together the better results we’re going to get.
“When it comes down to it, we want to win games of footy. We’re not here to make up the numbers.
“We want to hit the scoreboard and when the ball comes into the forward line we want to lock it in there until we score.”