By Damian Tardio
Season 2012 of the Peter Jackson VFL would see the Northern Blues represented with a new name, new colours, new coach and a host of new players. A regular finalist in seasons gone by, the Northern Blues 2012 campaign would take a different path and see the Club miss the finals for the first time since 2007.
A string of narrow losses to start the season severely dented the confidence of the young Blues and set the scene for a frustrating and inconsistent year. Despite the early losses, the Blues were competitive and played reasonable football but continued to lose games through costly concentration lapses in quarters of football.
The breakthrough win would come in round five, away to Bendigo at Queen Elizabeth Oval. The shackles appeared to be well and truly let loose as the Blues, under rookie VFL coach Robert Hyde, recorded the first win for 2012 in fine fashion with a 100-point belting which looked to have finally sparked the Blues' season.
The big Bendigo win would not be the catalyst for the Blues to mount a serious top eight challenge though, as the wheels well and truly fell off during a game mid-season. A disastrous flogging from Geelong at Visy Park, where the Blues managed only two goals, spelt the end of Robert Hyde's short coaching stint for the Northern Blues. Darren Harris would be named as the interim replacement till season's end.
With his team out of finals contention, Harris, who coached the club in 2011, would emphasise a return to the basics and implore his team to support and play for each other in the remaining games.
After two games in charge, the Blues ended their losing drought with a comprehensive 10-goal victory over Frankston - the performances of Tom Bell and Levi Casboult impressing the Carlton selectors and thus earning selection in the AFL for the rest of 2012. In the final stages of the season, the Northern Blues became renowned "giant killers" with upset wins over finalists Werribee and Casey which would eventual lift the Blues into a respectable tenth position and appease the fans somewhat after such a lacklustre start to the year.
1. Bret Thornton - 23 goals
2. Luke Mitchell - 19 goals
3. Tyson Thomas - 15 goals
VFL Team of the Year
Adam Marcon (Wing)
Nick Meese (Ruck)
Ford Coaches Player of the Year
Adam Marcon - 24 Votes (winner)
David Ellard - 16 Votes
Season Defining Games
Round 1 - Northern Blues v Coburg Tigers - Big game against a big rival and things didn't exactly go as they would have liked for the new-look Blues. The loss of promising forward Levi Casboult to a long-term knee injury proved a big loss, not only for the game but also most of the season. The Blues trailed all afternoon before going down by 13 points in a narrow contest.
Round 5 - Northern Blues v Bendigo Gold - The breakthrough win of the season came in round 5 against Bendigo and in great style. The Blues dominated all afternoon and with Tyson Thomas kicking three goals and David Ellard best on ground, they destroyed the Gold by 100 points.
Round 13 - Northern Blues v Frankston Dolphins - The second game in charge for caretaker coach Darren Harris and the Northern Blues rewarded him with a 48-point win to secure a second victory of the season. Tom Bell and Levi Casboult were sensational and Bret Thornton kicked five goals for the Blues.
Round 19 - Northern Blues v Casey Scorpions - One of the upsets of the season as the Northern Blues knocked off one of the premiership favourites by 40 points. Bret Thornton and Luke Mitchell got amongst the goals and Adam Marcon was best afield.
What went right:
The biggest positive from the season was the accelerated emergence of Adam Marcon, Kane Lambert and Luke Mitchell. All three were shining lights and showed they have big futures ahead in the game. Workman-like ruckman, Nick Meese, had an excellent season being a constant contributor and standout player for the Blues.
Despite the coaching change mid-season, the Blues begun to play for each other and adopted a much more cohesive forward structure which allowed the likes of Bret Thornton, Levi Casboult and Pat McCarthy to reap the rewards in the latter half of the season and really kick on.
What went wrong:
The first half of the season was one to just bury deep in the ground. Despite being competitive, the Blues could not take a trick as players fell foul to injury at crucial stages at both AFL and VFL level and others could not get on the park due to off-season injury. This cost the Blues dearly and hampered their chances early on. The injury toll left the team light on for experienced senior players and required them to fast track young rookies perhaps ahead of their time.
What they said:
Northern Blues General Manager, Garry O'Sullivan, although disappointed with the way the season played out, was pleased with the development of the overall playing list.
"We are used to playing finals on a regular basis, so that's disappointing, however we finished the season well. We have had 25 Northern Blues-listed players play senior footy this year which is a wonderful platform for the Club and for the future."