Geelong’s comparatively clean use of the ball allowed them to overpower the Northern Bullants 15.8(98) to 13.7(85) in Round 9 of the 2022 VFL Premiership Season.
The Bullants were forced to make multiple changes ahead of the match with Mutaz El Nour, Ethan Penrith, Tynan Smith, Baxter Knight and Billy Murphy unavailable.
Adversity brought opportunity though, especially for Ryan Gardner (after strong form for Montmorency in the NFNL) and – fittingly in the Sir Doug Nicholls Rounds – Kobe Brown (after his outing with the Indigenous and multi-cultural Fitzroy Cubs last weekend, and his good form with West Preston-Lakeside, also in the NFNL).
In a reminder that some things are more important than wins and losses, Brown shared what his debut, during an Indigenous round, especially after selection to represent his culture the week prior.
Brown is a Wiradjuri man (which encompasses a vast area including locations also known as Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, West Wylong and Griffith west of the Blue Mountains) who grew up on Latji Latji land (located in what is also known as the Mallee district in north western Victoria).
‘It has been a big couple of weeks,’ he said post-match.
‘Obviously playing in the multicultural and indigenous showcase game last week – that was really fun to connect with my culture.’
‘And then to come and play VFL the next week and make my debut, it’s been very special to me and my family is very thankful to the Bullants as well.’
‘I love these blokes, and it was great to run out there in the jumper for the first time, especially in such a significant round for me and my family – it felt pretty good.’
Brown’s pre-match advice from the coaching staff was clear.
‘[The coaches said] – do what you love, be exciting, bring tackle pressure and, most of all, have fun.’
‘I think I had a lot of fun today so I can tick that box,’ Brown shared.
Tim Jones, Sean Martin and Jaden Collins also returned to the Ants on an unusually still day at Preston City Oval which, under clear skies, meant that conditions should have been perfect for football.
Ants captain Tom Wilson dominated the contest with 36 disposals, eight clearances and five inside-50’s. His dirty work partner, Will Mitchell, was just as good with 31 disposals, nine clearances, six tackles and a goal.
Doug Lawrence was defiant in defence with 10 marks – most of them hard won. Jack Boyd’s strong leading and marking was a problem for Geelong all game and, on another day, his two goals, four behinds could have been more lethal.
Jean-Luc Velissaris added three goals to his 23 disposals, Tim Jones was smooth with his 23 disposals, and Jackson Barling laid seven tackles to go with his 20 disposals and five clearances.
Nathan Honey kicked an opportunist’s two goals, Andrew Courtney kicked his first ever VFL goal and Matthew Gundry, Ben Hurley and Liam Mackie also added majors.
For Geelong, Shannon Neale kicked five goals and Jye Chalcraft, Luke Dahlhaus (in addition to a game high 11 tackles), Scott Carlin and Oliver Dempsey all had plenty of the ball.
The Bullants start was as bright as the weather with debutante Brown following orders in the forward line being generally unpredictable and opportunistic whilst also harassing opposition defenders – something which was contagious through the Ants team as their pressure was of a high intensity.
Doug Lawrence and Ben De Bolfo, in defence, benefited from that effort further up the field to intercept mark regularly and Jackson Barling and Jean-Luc Velissaris goaled for the Bullants early in the quarter.
The Preston team’s energy was clearly higher than previous weeks, although the higher pace did lead to lower efficiency disposals which the Cats were able to capitalise on.
Geelong steadied late in the quarter to lead 2.5(17) to 2.2(14).
‘I love your intent with the footy,’ Bullants Coach Ben Hart urged at quarter time as he encouraged his team to continue with their aggressive ball use.
After an early second quarter Cats goal, the Ants continued their high-speed play and were rewarded with repeated entries inside-50 culminating in a smart snapped goal from Nathan Honey to close the gap to two points.
Whilst the Ants continued to have more possession, they had to fight harder to gain territory due to being less clinical with the ball.
The intent and will could not be criticised though, as was showcased when Velissaris goaled in close after Zac Hart, Mitchell, Wilson, Courtney and Honey found various ways – many outside the coach’s manual – to ensure the ball went forward before JL pounced.
Geelong would answer quickly, but the Ants continued to work and Liam Mackie continued his impressive return to the team with a towering set shot goal from outside of 50 to bring the Preston side level.
The Cats would end the half with another goal, and lead 6.5(41) to 5.5(35) at half time.
The goal came after an end-to-end transition which was emblematic of how easy Geelong’s goals appeared to come compared to how hard the Ants appeared to have to work for theirs.
Geelong would lead the inside-50s 25 to 21 and the Bullants had Doug Lawrence to thank with eight marks – comfortably the most on the field at this stage – and the majority of the intercept variety, which blunted many of those entries.
Tom Wilson (18 disposals), Will Mitchell (14 disposals, 5 clearances), Tim Jones and Lawrence (12 disposals each) were the major ball winners to half time. Kyle Dunkley had driven the Ants inside-50 five times – the most on the ground.
Early in the third quarter, Jack Boyd goaled from an intelligent rebound in defence, started by Peter Gentile and Lawrence, and ending with Dunkley delivering a well weighted pass to Boyd who marked and duly converted.
However, by this stage, Geelong were finding their rhythm, were punishing on the turnover and had added a goal either side of Boyd’s by seven minutes into the third.
Nathan Honey found himself in space and snap truly to narrow the margin back to eight points before Boyd intervened again.
The promising full forward tackled his opposite number, who was trying to exit his defensive 50, and was rewarded with a holding the ball decision. From the resulting free kick, Boyd sent a precision pass to Ben Hurley who marked and goaled.
Three goals from the Cats in five minutes again exemplified the problems the Ants needed to solve if they hoped to win.
The Preston side often had good options with the ball in hand, but couldn’t clinically move the ball to open teammates.
And, whilst they had solid structure when defending rebounds mostly, if that line was broken they were scored against quickly.
Another goal was added by the Cats and the margin was beginning to look unmanageable before Velissaris quickly replied with his third to give the Ants some hope – Geelong led 12.7(79) to the Ants 9.6.(60) at three quarter time.
Coach Hart urged his men to look for the handball receive and to take the game on at three quarter time.
Gentile sparked the Ants to life in the final term – first with a searing pass to Brown in the centre circle to set up an attack that Gentile himself would deliver inside-50. The ball would make its way to Matthew Gundry who would ultimately capitalise with a long goal.
Geelong would respond quickly again – in fact, the Cats would respond to an Ants goal within three minutes on four occasions through the day – before Boyd broke free of his man, marked and goaled to bring the margin back to 13 points. At this stage Geelong led 85 to the Ants 72.
And when Will Mitchell sailed one through after 13 minutes, the Bullants were within seven.
Shannon Neale’s fifth goal of the game, a dribbled snap from the boundary line equal parts skill and luck, appeared to break the back of the Ants who struggled to regain their intensity after that goal, and another five minutes later.
Andrew Courtney kicked his first goal for the Preston side, and the last one for the match, but the Cats ran out 13-point winners.
Forwards coach Perry Meka acknowledged the learning which is still happening.
‘It’s frustrating to a point but in saying that we asked them to do some different things in regards to creating run,’ he said.
‘They’re a coachable group and they did that to a T. We’re frustrated with the score at the end but there are a lot of positives to come out of the game.’
On what cost the Ants in the end, Meka felt it was the ability to play one touch football.
‘We turned the footy over a lot – just a little bit fumbly on occasions,’ he said.
‘And that’s something we’ve got to get to our craft on – we’ve got to work on it. We really need to spend that time on training – just touch, touch, touch,’ Meka continued.
‘When you’re playing an AFL aligned club like Geelong, they get the time with their players and with that skill work. It’s just something we’ve got to do. We know we’ve got to work on that and clean up our ball use and we think we can improve.’
An opportunity to improve comes against new rivals Carlton on Sunday 29th May at 1.05pm at Preston City Oval.
Goals: Velissaris 3, Boyd 2, Honey 2, Barling, Courtney, Gundry, Hurley, Mackie, Mitchell
Best: Wilson, Lawrence, Mitchell, Boyd, Velissaris, Barling