By: Daniel Kelly (@Ukurrie)
Photo By: Owen Jones (@digial_beard)
The Northern Bullants fought hard but fell short in a waterlogged Round 4 VFL matchup with Port Melbourne, 9.9 (63) to 13.10 (88), at ETU Stadium.
The Borough were more efficient with their ball use, especially entering their attacking 50, whereas the Ants too often lacked a quality final pass to enable their forwards to capitalise.
Port led at every change, despite an even share of the ball throughout the day, and pulled away as an already damp ground became heavy with intensifying rain in the second quarter.
The Ants closed with some momentum, reducing a 38-point deficit early in the final quarter to 25 points and controlling play for the final 20 minutes when the Borough were reduced to two fit players on the bench.
Bullants co-captain Liam Mackie left the field late in the game with what appeared an ankle injury and will undergo testing during the week.
Agile forward Billy Barnes debuted for the Bullants, joining Paul Pascu and Nathan Honey in returning to the side. Jackson Barling, Ethan Jackson and Zac Hart made way.
Barnes’s quality is evident, but his commitment – travelling from Echuca to Preston multiple times per week for training – strengthened his claims for a chance to wear the famous Bullant red and white.
Tyson Young and Brandon Ryan kicked three goals each for the Bullants, Perry Lewis-Smith two, and Barnes opened the scoring with his first goal for the club.
Jean-Luc Velissaris continued his strong start to the season with 32 disposals but it is his continued ability to create clean clearances (nine for this match) which make a difference. Patrick Fairlie laid nine tackles (the most for both sides), in addition to 30 possessions and 10 clearances, and Young added 23 disposals whilst creating his three goals.
Baker Smith held the line across half back as best he could, taking a game high nine marks.
Jake Gasper kicked three goals for the Borough, including the game sealer when the Ants were pushing late in the last. He also had 26 possessions and seven tackles.
Felix Flockart also kicked three for Port Melbourne, Harvey Hooper two to go with his 29 disposals, Paul Hunter and Harry Stubbings also two, and the busy Anthony Anastasio one.
Big Bullant bodies in midfield – Young, Pascu, and even developing ruckman Henko Cronje – helped Velissaris and Fairlie shade Port Melbourne in clearances despite the Borough’s Sam Naismith dominating hit outs with 48 taps.
Despite the absence of their prime tackler, Barling, the Ants pressure was consistent all day, laying 82 tackles. Whilst the conditions were a factor in driving the high number, it was still significantly more (+20) than their season average.
Final quarter launchpad?
Coach Brodie Holland urged his team to maintain an even four quarter performance at three quarter time when there was a risk that the final margin could get ugly.
The scenario was similar to the 2021 season when the Ants were also rebuilding after the end of their alignment with Carlton. Winless and facing a 50-point deficit against Frankston at three quarter time on a cold evening at an empty Kinetic Stadium bayside, then coach Josh Fraser urged his team to not go quietly into the night and make a stand for the future.
The Ants responded with a five goal to one final quarter and went on a three game winning streak including exacting some revenge on Carlton the following week, a solid win versus Richmond the week after, and then a Battle of Bell St one point classic against Coburg.
Holland’s Bullants responded in similar fashion and restored some pride. Whilst it is too much to ask for three successive wins from this developing squad, closing out the game is another piece of evidence that there is talent and commitment in this team.
The Bullants welcome Sydney to Genis Steel Oval, hopefully for their first true home game of the season after needing to move their Round 3 matchup against Essendon to ETU Stadium due to ground surface issues.
Sydney is also winless in 2023, having lost to Box Hill, Casey, and North Melbourne.
The Bullants sole 2022 win came in Round 4 against Sydney – 104 to 85 in the harbour city.
PORT MELBOURNE 5.4 8.6 12.6 13.10 (88)
BULLANTS 3.2 3.4 5.6 9.9 (63)
Port Melbourne: Gasper 3, Flockart 3, Stubbings 3, Hunter 2, Hooper 2, Anastasio
Bullants: Young 3, Ryan 3, Lewis-Smith 2, Barnes
Port Melbourne: Gaspar, Hooper, Naismith, Flockart, Anastasio
Bullants: Velissaris, Fairlie, Ryan, Young, Smith