A large percentage of players never get to experience the biggest stage in football, playing in front of 100,000 people at the MCG for the ultimate glory. Some experience the moment, but fall at the final hurdle to infinite glory, never to receive another opportunity.

Even fewer get to play in two grand finals, let alone three. Matthew Capuano had experienced that ‘one day in September’ three times by the age of 25, and had won two premierships in the process.

Capuano played 82 games across six seasons for North Melbourne in one of the most successful eras in club history, forming a deadly ruck partnership with Corey McKernan - a North legend in his own right.

He missed the entire 1997 season through injury, and while persistent knee problems threatened to derail his time at North, Capuano was an embodiment of the Shinboner Spirit, as he fought back to be an integral part of North’s 1999 triumph.

This is North Media’s, ‘Where Are They Now?’

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When you got drafted, North picked up a number of first year players but you were the only one out of that group to play in a premiership. Is there anything you did differently that allowed you to experience the ultimate success?
I lived with another player I was drafted with in Paul Geister when I first came down to Melbourne actually - it was myself, Mark Stevens and him. I don’t think I did anything differently. I think when I was lucky enough to get drafted by the club and you go through to the point I am now, and you see so many champion players, great players that just aren’t lucky enough to be able to play in premiership teams. To be honest with you, I think I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I was drafted in the ’92 draft and I was lucky that my mum and dad wanted me to finish year 12 up in Ballarat. When I was going through that draft process we told all the teams I spoke to that I was going to stay in Ballarat for that year. I was just lucky that North Melbourne chose me and I was lucky enough to spend that year at home and finish year 12. I did manage to come down and play some reserve footy while I was still up in Ballarat though, which gave me a bit of an idea of what it was like. I was just lucky to be in the right place and the right time to end up at that footy club at the time that I did.

We played two rucks in the ’96 grand final, yourself being one and Corey McKernan being the other, but you started at the first centre bounce. How were you feeling in the lead-up to that game, and what was the atmosphere like around the ground and around the group when that first siren went?
Myself and a few of the other boys I came through with, myself, Peter Bell and Adam Simpson all started at around the same time. It was really interesting in the ’96 premiership because we all look at that game in that we were only really starting our careers to a certain degree, we hadn’t been playing senior footy for long, but then you had a group of guys like Ian Fairley and Darren Crocker, guys who had been around the footy club for a long time. For everyone it was an unbelievable experience to play in that game and be successful, but we didn’t really comprehend the enormity of the achievement. Playing in an AFL premiership is an unbelievable experience. Myself in particular, I’d just come off of a knee reconstruction the year before but I managed to get back pretty quickly and play most of that year. I didn’t really appreciate it until later in my career, just in regards to how lucky you are to be able to play in grand finals, and to win one so early in my career. It was certainly a different experience in ’99 when we’d been around a little bit longer. If you look at the ’96 premiership I only really had three or four possessions in the game and spent a fair bit of time on the bench. In terms of contributing to that day I did start at the first centre bounce, and that first moment, that first contest was an unbelievable experience, but it probably felt as though I didn’t have a massive contribution on the day. It was still great to be a part of it.

Do you think having experienced the build-up and everything surrounding a grand final in 1996 allowed you to enjoy the lead-up to the game in 1999 a little bit more?
Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that. We were part of that ’96 premiership which was an unbelievable experience, and to see that success happen for more the guys who’d been around for some of the tougher periods, to be able to see them in that game was amazing. Then to lose in ’98, the effect of losing that grand final when everyone thought we were the favourites. The way that game ended up going and the disappointment it created really drove that extra determination that the mission we were on the year after to experience a win again. There’s no doubt ’99 , from my point of view, was a different experience. I’d been around for a few more years, most of that younger group had started to really establish themselves, and to win another one, I’d won two flags and played in three grand finals and I was only about 23. It was a pretty reasonable start to the career I guess.

You said you feel like you contributed to the ’99 win a bit more. The narratives surrounding the games are quite different. The first half of 1996 looked to be much more of a battle than 1999. Do you look on either of the grand finals you won more favourably than the other, or is there one you enjoyed more at the time and look back on more fondly?
Both equally, but I probably look a bit more fondly on 1999 because I feel like I had a bit more of an impact on the game than in ’96. I felt like a bit of a passenger in ’96 in the actual game. In ’99 I contributed a bit more to the game.

Hamish McIntosh was the subject of our last ‘Where Are They Now’ article and he spoke about the close bond of North’s rucks in his time at the club. You and Corey McKernan formed a really strong ruck pairing, but what was your relationship like off the field?
We actually lived together for a while. We were really close mates and it was a really good relationship in that we worked pretty well in terms of being teammates and sharing that role, but there was also some healthy competition as well, and then we spent a lot of time together off the ground as mates. It was a good time.

So many members of the North sides from the 90’s say the bond between the team was tighter than anything they’ve ever seen. Do you agree with that sentiment, and do you think the tightness of that bond was a big reason for the success over that period of time?
Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that. The environment was one that we worked and trained really hard as a team from a footballing perspective, but we were also really good mates off the field. We just had large groups of players that hung out together off the field. That’s something that I haven’t really seen in my experience of being at other clubs since that period.

You were playing in an era when the league was moving towards being professional. You got drafted when you were finishing school, but did you start your playing career with a job outside of football?
Over those first couple of years I did a bit of study and a bit of work. They weren’t full time but I did a bit of both. The period I played was from 1993 to 2003, and that’s when the game went professional. By the time I was finished it was just about a fully professional game. Particularly when I first started there were guys doing different bits of work, particularly early on. It seemed like the majority were doing something. As the wages grew, it slowly grew into football taking more of a priority in terms of the amount of time we spent at the footy club.

While you were studying early in your career, did that help you up for your post-football career?
I did start an accounting degree, but worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t my kind of thing. I did some work in business admin, not from a degree sense but more surrounding some diplomas in business management and that kind of stuff. When I finished playing footy I decided that I wanted to go into the hospitality kind of area, spent some time working as a barista and making coffees. I did have a plan of wanting to start my own cafe but I sort of fell into coaching, and I spent nearly 10 years at Carlton coaching there.

Did you always have ambitions of going into coaching, or did it come out of the blue and you only realised how much you enjoyed it once you were there?
When I finished playing footy I had no interest in coaching, and I didn’t see myself in that space. It just happened by chance. I did a year or so of some part-time ruck coaching at the Kangas, but I gave that up when I started a new job. I was approached through Leigh Colbert by Brett Ratten when he was the coach at Carlton and he asked if I wanted to come on board in a part-time ruck coaching role. He said if I was interested and did a good job at the end of the year there might be a full-time role there. I devoted a bit of time to it and really enjoyed it. At the end of that first year I got a full-time job as a development coach. That was really where the coaching journey started for me and it was great, I really enjoyed it.

You’ve obviously had some pretty incredible experiences both playing for and coaching at North. Would it be fair to say you’re still a supporter of the club?
Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that. While I was coaching at Carlton I still kept one eye on what was going on at the Kangas, but it was difficult to do too much more than that since I was at another club. Since I’ve finished working in football, I definitely regard myself as a North Melbourne man and still follow them closely. I live down in Hobart and I’ve been able to get to quite a few of the games this year, I’ve done a bit of work with the ABC with commentary as well, and have been able to see a few of the games. I’m definitely a North Melbourne man.

Watching the games as you do now, are there any players that catch your eye or remind you of yourself when they play?
I certainly love to watch Todd Goldstein play. The journey he’s taken to where he is now is astounding, and some of the things he’s still doing as a ruckman in the AFL is unbelievable. I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for his achievements and what he’s done, and his standing as a player at the footy club is massive I think. His achievements and career certainly wouldn’t be underrated within the club, and he could go down as the best ever in terms of pure ruck craft. I think it would be difficult to line up anyone that’s played before him, that I’ve seen anyway. I’m also really enjoying seeing the development of Nick Larkey as a key-forward. I’m starting to see some growth in him this year in being that number one key-forward, which is a difficult role. I’m loving seeing a few of the kids as well. I think what the club has done so far is get some really good talent in the door, and I’m really enjoying seeing some of those kids play as well.

One final question, if you could sum up your time at North Melbourne in a few sentences, then how would you?
Outside of having a family and getting married it was the best time of my life. I think the thing that probably is a really good indicator of that is that the mates I met and progressed through with back in the 90’s, I still regard as being my best mates now. They’re the two things. I was lucky enough to be part of some really great experiences in terms of success, but the thing I rate even more is the lifelong friendships I’ve taken from my time at the Kangaroos. It’s something I’ll never forget and that’s probably the thing that is most valuable.

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