Football is a funny game. Twelve months ago, Jack Ziebell was the vice-captain of a club which had just made two consecutive preliminary finals and was gunning for a third. The team had finally won a round 1 game under Brad Scott and would go on to win nine-in-a-row before the disastrous second half that almost ranks alongside 1998 as two of the seasons North fans dare not mention.
Twelve months later, Jack Ziebell begins his eighth season at North Melbourne with the little ‘C’ beside his name on team sheets. Ziebell was destined to be an AFL captain from the day he was born. He has been Andrew Swallow’s heir apparent since he joined the club’s leadership group as a 21-year-old. He will lead the second youngest side in the league, a side which has lost almost 2000 games of experience over a single summer.
Captain Jack is the physical and emotional embodiment of Shinboner Spirit. This is a man who will throw himself into packs and launch into bumps with little regard for his own safety. Captain Jack has never been lacking in his leadership abilities and qualities. Where his predecessor Andrew Swallow was more of a ‘lead by example’ type, Ziebell is the more traditional, vocal and in-your-face leader. Where Swallow was happy to pose for glamour shots for magazines (not that there’s anything wrong with it), you will get no such nonsense from Ziebell. He is perhaps reminiscent of a bygone era and he has the unique opportunity to mould his young team as captain of a side in a refresh year.
But while Captain Jack now has the duty to lead 22 young charges into battle, he has some major flaws in his own game to work on. Ziebell’s biggest weakness through his career has been his endurance. While he has been slowly working on this reflected by his time on ground stats, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Spending more time in the game should give him more confidence to back his abilities. Which brings me to my next point. Ziebell needs – as a matter of urgency – to stop bombing the ball forward (for the sake of my sanity as much as anything). Look for the quick handball or the short kick. This is likely both a mindset and a tactical change.
Ziebell's round 3 performance last year against the Demons should be act as the standard. He is not, never has been and never will be the type of player to win 30+ possessions a week. The measure of his game should be how much he makes opposition players quake in their boots with his tacking, his intensity and his ferocity. This is the mark of a Shinboner.
It will be interesting to see where the responsibility of the captaincy takes Ziebell’s – and for that matter, his deputy, Robbie Tarrant’s – games, but there is little doubting the fact that these are exciting times for North fans. Both have the quality, drive and talent to succeed in the roles and will shape the kind of North Melbourne we will see for at least the next decade.
Captain Jack should take inspiration from his almost-namesake, Captain Jack (Sparrow).
“The seas may be rough, but I am the captain! No matter how difficult, I will always prevail.”
So, all that is left to say is good luck, Captain Jack. This is your team now. Make us proud.