North Melbourne co-captains Luke McDonald and Jye Simpkin (Original image: North Melbourne Twitter)

Forgiving cliché, few could contest North Melbourne's need for a brand-new, industrial-strength broom to sweep clean the breakdowns of 2022.

A noticeable portion of its foundation, it was discovered, had been built on sand with what proved to be borrowed materials.

14 months on from the opening night of the 2021 AFL Draft – an evening that saw the Kangaroos cash in their first-ever No.1 pick, selecting a misplaced messiah via video stream – the club's rebuild has continued in earnest, with a new foreman overseeing the erection of a pair of key pillars in co-captains Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin.

On the surface, North's blueprints still have some way to be worked before the mantel and trophy cases can be refit, but with firmer ground beneath them, a trusted hand on the tools and the stumps in place, a nod and a quick pat on the back can be traded amongst the workforce. Stage one, it seems, is finally complete.

Hardhat clad with scrolls in hand, Alastair Clarkson makes his return to Arden Street beneath grey clouds with a portfolio of work unrivalled by any of his peers and very few of his predecessors.

The announcement of 'Clarko's' arrival on a five-year deal in early November brought an end to much of the fretting, but little of the bloodletting. Heads would still roll. Walls would come down, with much cladding yet to be framed.

Still, for all of his success found elsewhere, as well as the upgrades completed in his absence, Clarkson knew where the nooks and crannies once were. He knew the people that inhabited them, too.

New kids in Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw arrived on the block, ushered in with picks acquired for the ice-bath-swerving South Australian phenom. "Two for the price of one!" North fans cried as the composed forward and hard-nosed mid landed in his place. Local materials for a local build.

The Vic Metro juniors now join Luke Davies-Uniacke, Josh Goater, Tom Powell, Will Phillips and Tarryn Thomas as the blue-chip joeys under Clarkson's watch.

Less than two months out from the new season, one in which the Roos will be out to avoid a third spoon on the hop for the first time since the 1930s, another distinctive shift was ticked off. The foreman's scrolls were opened to find a fresh design. Not for the first time, a choice to work against the club's own grain had been opted for at Arden Street.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 19: Alastair Clarkson poses for a photo during a North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL Media Opportunity at Arden Street Ground on August 19, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. Clarkson has agreed to coach the North Melbourne Football Club for the next five seasons, officially beginning on November 1, 2022. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

It has never been controversial to label the North Melbourne Football Club as unique. After all, it is a tag its people have been all too happy to embrace and entrench.

"At clubs with bigger memberships, their supporters only touch their colours," revolutionary administrator Ron Joseph once offered. "But at North, we have the Shinboner spirit. North people can touch that spirit – they are the real Shinboners, they are the club."

Staunch, yet, conversely, malleable, this proudly blue-collar club has traded rags for riches in the past, adopting stand-alone means to do so.

In the 70s, getting the jump on new laws saw lump sums traded for veteran stars, purchases that propelled the Shinboners from the cellar to premiership glory, twice over. By the 90s, the club's administrative nous was again on show, with a Riverina recruitment drive delivering the Roos a set of key forwards and another pair of flags.

Today, the plan for revival comes with a fresh face and a set of balanced books, as high-end draft picks begin their climb to September in debt-free surroundings, achieved without the currency of human suffering brought in by poker machines.

This adoption of youth may have been visible at stages throughout North's history but never on this scale. While still home to veterans in Todd Goldstein (34 years of age), Aaron Hall (32), Jack Ziebell (32), Ben Cunnington (31), Hugh Greenwood (31), and now Liam Shiels (31), the nucleus of the club's fifth premiership side is (possibly) in place.

A core group that still gets around on provisional licences.

However, before this week, this generation of gifted 'Zoomers' was still left with little say at the table; still asked to shadow these stalwarts and wait for their turn at the reins.

North Melbourne's Harry Sheezel (left) and George Wardlaw share a laugh at the 2022 AFL National Draft (Photo by Jake Benoiton)

Throughout his 18 seasons at Waverley, Clarkson's four flags were all won with just one lieutenant beside him on the dais. But as proven in a now-famous September speech, Clarkson knows that strategies, like sharks, must shift to survive.

Ahead of Clarkson's first season at Arden Street since 1995, a distinct alteration was on show for coach and club, with North Melbourne announcing Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin as co-captains for 2023 and beyond - the first case of deputy leaders in the club's 154-year history.

Few will have wagered anything on the Roos running in the finals race this season, opting instead to back the club's neighbours to the east, south, and west as shapers of the eight. Though - in McDonald and Simpkin - the Shinboners now have their truly representative pillars to build around. Pillars that members can already picture celebrating under confetti in Septembers yet to pass.

As members of North's leadership group in 2022, the duo's elevation shocked few, however, eyebrows were raised by even the staunchest of Roo Boys when both ascended in tandem.

"I must admit, whenever I hear about dual captaincy, my eyebrows get a little bit raised," dual premiership-winning ruckman Corey McKernan told SEN Radio.

Still, as someone who lined up for his post-training soup on winter evenings and lifted weights in the old social club bar, it wasn't long before McKernan's forehead lost its creases.

"I think it was actually the perfect choice," the North Melbourne immortal quickly buttressed.

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As the son of a Shinboner, McDonald had a read on the club long before his name was printed on a locker. And with his credentials now stamped on its door beside those of Glenn Archer and Michael Firrito, the defender has his place along two rich runs of lineage.

Brought through the doors with the 8th pick of the 2013 draft, the once-bearded backman has long played his role in defence with aplomb, featuring on 159 occasions across nine seasons, winning the 2020 Syd Barker Medal in turn.

Off-field, McDonald has also defended the club, standing defiant as a 12-year-old amongst 1500 Shinboners in December 2007, fighting off 32-degree heat and the league's persistent pushes to send North north.

With brawn, forthrightness, and sometimes cheek, the man who Simpkin claims can "talk underwater" is made from the club's inimitable fabric. Prod him, and he is sure to champion this fact. Pierce him, and he will bleed blue and white.

McDonald resides less than a Blight torpedo from Arden Street, or a 'Boomer' Harvey weave across the Moonee Ponds Creek. While his childhood was spent in Melbourne's leafy east, this home within the Kangaroos' industrial heartland suits the new skipper down to his bootstraps.

Widen the lens to take in a world beyond Errol Street and Racecourse Road, and Simpkin's place alongside McDonald has been some time in the making.

A proud Yorta Yorta man, North Melbourne announced Simpkin as its first-ever Indigenous captain - despite former skipper Wayne Carey spending his youth identifying as Indigenous.

The midfielder becomes just the sixth Indigenous captain in V/AFL history, following in the footsteps of Graham 'Polly' Farmer (Geelong), Gavin Wanganeen (Port Adelaide), Michael Long (Essendon), Chris Johnson (Brisbane), Adam Goodes (Sydney) and Steven May (Gold Coast).

Pointedly, only three of these champions ever earned the right to lead in their own right on a full-time basis.

Some will stress that this overlooking runs harmoniously with statistics. After all, just 3.8 per cent of Australia's population identified as holding Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage during the 2021 Census.

But with Indigenous footballers making up more than 10 per cent of the AFL's playing stocks last year, any failure to view the playing field as a space of greater representation than the nation at large can no longer be rebuffed.

That being said, there is absolutely no tokenism in the decorated ball winners' elevation.

Among his peers both old and young, Simpkin is streets ahead. Already a dual Syd Barker medallist at just 24, the first-round draftee sits beside the exalted ilk of Cunnington, Glendinning, Martyn, Schwass, Stevens, and Wells after only 116 games.

Consistent, young, and with a million-dollar smile, not only is Simpkin a highly marketable quantity, he acts as an approachable benchmark for the likes of Goater, Phillips, Powell and Wardlaw to shadow on a daily basis.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 16: Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke of the Kangaroos (R) celebrate a goal during the round 18 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Richmond Tigers at Marvel Stadium on July 16, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Irrespective of their growing mantels, both McDonald and Simpkin will require helping hands as their duties increase. In a testament to their leadership qualities, the pair have already refused the chance to sugarcoat this inconvenient truth.

"The quicker we can get more responsibility on younger guys, the quicker we're going to climb up the ladder," McDonald told reporters on Monday.

The enormity of the task wasn't lost on Simpkin either, with the junior member of the firm stressing that rising pressure - along with defeats - was inevitable.

"We're going to struggle still this year, at times. There's no doubt about it," Simpkin said matter of factly.

With an average of less than 65 senior games per head currently in the Roos' locker room, finding enough polish when the ball is in play will prove a test for large portions of the year.

On the track, the skippers will have a wealth of knowledge at their service, with Brett Ratten, Josh Gibson, John Blakey, Damian Monkhorst, and Gavin Brown all working under Clarkson in 2023.

Despite there being just one premiership winner on North's 45-man list at the present, this array of assistants was succeeding in September before McDonald and Simpkin could tell their fibulas from their shinbones.

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - MAY 14: Cameron Zurhaar of the Kangaroos is seen with Josh Walker of the Kangaroos and John Blakey, Senior Assistant Coach of the Kangaroos during the 2022 AFL Round 09 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Port Adelaide Power at Blundstone Arena on May 14, 2022 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Although North Melbourne members will be desperate for stability this season, by and large, the wins and losses column still won't matter. What counts at this stage of a rebuild is that the club's pillars are set. Pillars that truly represent the past, the present, and the future of a club that has always welcomed all to join its chorus.

In McDonald, the Kangaroos have their gloveman. A fighter that will stand resolute and trade jabs from the club's perpetual place against the wall.

In Simpkin, they have a still-maturing champion. One who has the weight of several communities behind him, helping to propel him into even rarer air.

Like the roof of the old betting ring behind the Arden Street grandstand, the pair covers all. Both the spirit of this unique club and the wider competition's wealth of First Nation's talent.

Ultimately, it was why these two couldn't be split when their peers went to the ballots.

In sharp opposition to those rusted sheets of corrugated iron; the bricks and the mortar, this pair stands tall. Ready to weather the changing seasons still to unfold.

More than any of its rivals, North Melbourne has always relied on mateship and buy-in to make its mark. Often relying on fewer hands to pull through in an effort to make lighter work.

And though there are still dog days ahead for the Kangaroos, the build ahead can be looked at with less of a grimace now their key pillars are up, and the game's master builder has his toolbelt back on.