No room for David Noble’s spray in modern AFL

Everybody knew that the rebuild at North Melbourne was going to be a tough road to hoe, and potentially an exhausting one for the fans.

Stripping an AFL playing list back and restarting essentially from square one is a process not every club needs to undertake, yet a few will; and the pain in the faces and words of long-standing supporters is palpable while it takes place.

In recent times, Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle have managed to undertake a rebuilding process with some subsequent pain, yet without every really hitting absolute rock bottom (though the Hawks may do just that this year). Each has then popped its head back up out of the water relatively quickly, with promise around their future prospects clear for all to see.

Carlton, Brisbane, Melbourne and now North Melbourne have fared less fortunately, and all took slightly different approaches to clearing the shelves and finding the right mix of playing and coaching staff to re-instill hope and bring about eventual success.

Right now, the Kangaroos are living a period of pain which looks set to continue for some time yet, with a long journey required before returning to finals is even a topic up for discussion.

As such, coach David Noble has become increasingly frustrated at a season and a half of results that have seen his team claim the wooden spoon in 2021 and look more than half a chance to do so again this year.

His now-infamous verbal spray delivered to the playing group after the team’s 108-point loss to Brisbane in Round 3 volumes about where he is emotionally spoke as the man charged with taking a club, one without much playing talent or experience, forward.

What we would all give to have been a fly on the wall in that dressing room, to hear the venom in the words he used; ones so severe he felt the need to apologise to his players just a few days later.

Reading between the lines and considering broad reports that Noble’s words had been ‘personal enough in nature’ it is likely the 54-year-old broke one of the most basic rules followed by most teachers, instructors, educators and coaches.

Call out the behavior, and not the person.

No doubt Noble was scathing of poor efforts in 50/50 contests when the ball was there to be won against the Lions. I’m sure he also let the playing group know that their kicking was rubbish and fueled by errant decisions, and that what they have served up a few times in recent history is simply not acceptable for a group of men hoping to compete at AFL level .

Sadly, and somewhere amongst what is likely to have been a tirade of epic proportions, Noble likely made comments that went beyond broad commentary on the group as a whole, and subsequently brought men to a state of shock and left at least a few feeling rather emotional, if reports on the aftermath are to be believed.

Copping a spray rarely receives attention, even in modern footy when they have become far less frequent: even rarer is the coach actually apologizing to the group afterwards. Rather than the easy criticism of ‘soft’ Kangaroos – or the generation of their younger players are part of, in some instances – let’s focus on why Noble felt the need to walk it back with his players, and where if anywhere the ‘line’ is for coaches.

The media was certain to run two clear lines in the aftermath. A few dinosaurs were always going to preach for a hardening up of the modern player, while others would be more sympathetic to the pressures experienced by these young athletes who work themselves to the point of exhaustion each week whilst under the scrutiny of a not always fair public eye.

Both, though, could mount an argument, for opposite reasons, maybe that Noble is not the man to be steering the ship.

History is littered with famous dressing-downs from some of the most famous and adorned figures in the game; players have long been verbally abused both privately and publicly by some men held in the highest of esteem by the sport.

Yet the often hidden mental health challenges of the 20th century, particularly for men, deserve the exact same discussion we are now having in regards to cultures of affirmation and support, as opposed to words promoting shame and embarrassment.

David Noble, Senior Coach of the Kangaroos addresses his players during the 2022 AFL Round 07 match between the Carlton Blues and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium on April 30, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

True professionalism adds layers of stress and emotion to both the footballing everyday and lives of the players that make us smile each week. They deal with the media as best they can, work in the community, better themselves with educational courses and try to make their parents proud of them.

There is simply no place to single out any one of them personally in front of teammates, in a manner that leads to embarrassment or introversion, as it seems Noble did. No doubt, the coach did not set out to do so, instead feeling the need to vent after yet another frustrating performance.

However, as he has stated, he must be better and the culture of the dressing room side of the game needs reflecting upon by all of us.

Many thought demanding zero reaction or dissent when it came to umpires was just another example of ‘woke’ nonsense that affected the very fabric of the game; yet it appears to have been more easily solved than many believed. Indeed, recent reports have shown, lower-level abuse of umpires, particularly female umpires, has reached a point where to not act at the highest level, where kids learn about the game from day dot, would have been irresponsible.

Some will suggest the same about the reaction to Noble’s spray. However, it is also potentially fixable in the immediate term, especially if all parties involved find common ground.

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