As Hamish McIntosh and Todd Goldstein face off against each other for the first time, the ruck coach who helped build their careers says it’s a shame North Melbourne fans never got to see the duo play together at their peak.
Supporters from both North Melbourne and Geelong will have to settle for the next best thing on Friday night, a duel between the master and his apprentice that could prove pivotal to the outcome of the showdown at Simonds Stadium.
Alex Ishchenko, the former North Melbourne big man and long-time (and current) ruck coach, recalled how the injury curse that seemed to follow McIntosh during his final days at Arden Street was the push into the deep end Goldstein needed to emerge as a No.1 ruckman.
In essence, it was Goldstein’s development while McIntsoh was sidelined during for much of 2011-12 that has helped the Roos.
“While Hamish was injured, Todd’s durability was the key to him being able to take that opportunity and get a couple of years under his belt,” Ishchenko said. “It would have been great to see them play together, but unfortunately for North fans it never happened.”
The two big men formed a tag team for 32 matches during the 2009 and ‘10 seasons, when McIntosh was in his prime, but played only six games together during and after the 2011 season.
Trading McIntosh to Geelong ended any chance of North discovering if the pair could have thrived as a one-two punch.
McIntosh and Goldstein are now key contributors on teams capable of launching for a premiership this year.
The similarities between the two when they first entered the league begin and end with the fact both were recruited by former North scout Neville Stibbard.
McIntosh, taken pick No.9 in 2002, was highly-rated for the football brain and skill level he possessed as a 200 centimetre kid – “a natural footballer” Ishchenko recalled – while Goldstein, pick No.37 in 2006, was more a “natural athlete” whose background as a national-level junior basketballer gave him great hand-eye coordination.
From there, McIntosh’s unfortunate run with injury has run parallel with Goldstein’s exceptional durability. Since establishing himself in the team in late-2009, Goldstein has played 100 of a possible 107 games.
In the same period, McIntosh has managed 43 games, although few would argue that – when his body has facilitated his talent – McIntosh has produced a similarly high-performance to Goldstein.
Finally fit, McIntosh has so far this year proved wrong those who thought his career might be over at 29.
“All us here at North take an interest in what he is doing and we are rapt to see him, particularly after last year, string a few games together and perform so well,” Ishchenko said. “It was always about getting his body right. I think we are just seeing now what he was always capable of and did when he was playing here.”
Goldstein’s importance to the Roos was underlined on Thursday when the club shielded the 25-year-old from potential free agency offers by re-signing him until the end of 2016.
Ishchenko said he thought Goldstein, now in his eighth year and quietly morphing into one of the AFL’s premier ruckmen, had the potential to play more than 250 games and “hopefully become one of the greats of our club”.
“He didn’t have a strong football pedigree, did he? So if you had have said then that we were going to get that sort of service and reliability out of a basketballer, you would have surprised me.”
On their upcoming match-up, McIntosh admitted on Thursday that it would be “weird” playing against many of his former teammates, while Goldstein credited McIntosh for the “massive” impact he had made on his career.
Fittingly, North recalled Michael Firrito on Thursday night, a teammate so close to McIntosh that he had the ruckman as one of his groomsmen, while Geelong brought back Mathew Stokes from suspension and Jesse Stringer, in for his first game of the season, to replace Steve Johnson (suspended) and Taylor Hunt (omitted).
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