Tynan Smith and Ben Silvagni leave Piranha Park with the Battle of Bell Street Trophy safely in hand. Photo: Nathan McNeill (NWM Media).
Written by: Daniel Kelly.
The Northern Bullants, after winning the 157th Battle of Bell St against Coburg 12.11 (83) to 12.10 (82) by a solitary point, are accumulating experience of different ways to win a game of football.
Daniel Hughes took home the newly minted Harold Martin Medal as best afield, as the Bullants withstood a last quarter wind assisted charge from the Lions at Piranha Park in Coburg.
The win is the third in a row after six consecutive losses to start the 2021 season.
Each of the Preston side’s wins have come in different ways, providing a solid foundation of belief which can be drawn upon in future encounters. Just as each loss taught the Bullants something about themselves, each win has built a muscle memory for the future.
The win against Carlton, the team that ended their affiliation so abruptly, leaving the Bullants unlikely to survive as a football club, was an emotional win. The follow up win against last year’s premiers, Richmond, was a cold, clinical, professional result.
This win against Coburg had a little of both of those wins – the emotion of a local derby and the tactical nous to adjust to the difficult conditions.
However, it also included the players taking ownership of their destiny in a frantic final ten minutes when Coburg appeared set to overrun them to record a comfortable victory on the back of a breeze which had resulted in 18 of the 22 goals kicked to the city end.
During those final ten minutes, the play centred on the opposite side of the ground from the benches, and thus, the coaches.
With restrictions on when support staff can run on to the ground to deliver messages, and with no goals scored in those critical ten minutes, it was up to the leaders of the club, regardless of age, to step up and secure the win.
Before those tense final minutes, the Bullants had put in the hard work to get to a winning position.
Daniel Hughes played big and small all day long in his usual crash or crash through style. He led the match in hitouts (35), accumulated 20 disposals, laid a team high seven tackles, and was second only to Tim Jones for the Bullants in clearances (six).
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In addition to the tireless Jones who accumulated 22 possessions to go with his eight clearances, Will Mitchell put on another ball magnet display to lead the Bullants with 25 disposals.
Sunny Brazier (two goals to go with his 19 possessions) is firmly entrenched in the Bullant midfield and Tom Wilson was consistent with his 18 possessions, although his calmness in the final 10 minutes was worth more than the disposals themselves.
In all, the midfield covered well for the late loss of Paul Ahern, who was a precautionarily ruled out just before the match with a calf strain, although the hope is he will be available for selection for next week’s match trip to Southport.
This opened the door for Oskar Manton, from the Williamstown VAFA side, to make a solid debut, on only 20 minutes notice, and playing mostly forward, despite training with the defensive corps all season.
Liam Mackie (22 disposals, one goal) was outstanding and continues solve problems in all areas of the field for coach Josh Fraser.
Often starting on the wing, Mackie would help bottle the ball into the Bullants attacking fifty. He was rewarded when he judged the wind superbly to goal from a set shot where the 50 metre line meets the boundary late in the first quarter to help ensure the Bullants took full value from kicking with the breeze. All this whilst receiving plenty of advice from the nearby Lions’ faithful as he settled in to his routine.
But it was Mackie drifting back in the final quarter, with the unenviable task of standing 15 metres in front of the opposing full forward, which proved just as decisive. He took up space, along with some bruises, and broke up a few onrushing Coburg attacks enough to help his comrades clear the ball when the game was on the line.
Sunny Brazier, Nathan Honey, Billy Murphy, Tynan Smith and Glenn Strachan all added two goals each. The spread of goals across the team was noteworthy, as was that a few of those goals came from quickly adapting to conditions.
Brazier took advantage of an open goal square, and the wind, to bounce one through from distance; Strachan also cleverly spun the ball from a kick from distance so that it would flip forward all the way through an unguarded goal; and, Honey repeatedly circled behind the marking contest in forward fifty, knowing that the breeze would cause defenders to misjudge a little, and the ball would eventually find its way over the back.
Wind or no wind, Tynan Smith continues to bely his age with a big body presence up forward. This creates havoc, and no doubt a little concern, for defenders, as well as a path for his teammates. Smith showed brains as well as brawn with a deft kick from mid-air to set up a quick-thinking Honey, who goalled.
Jack Boyd would add one late in the first quarter, just after the aforementioned Mackie’s goal from the boundary.
The Bullants would lead, with the breeze, by 20 points at quarter time. This would evaporate to a one-point deficit at half time as the Lions piled on six goals with the wind.
Critically though, two late goals (to Brazier and Strachan), adding to an earlier one from Smith, meant that the Preston side had solid reward for observing and learning from the conditions to keep a foothold in the game at half time, despite kicking into the wind.
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Billy Murphy was key in the third quarter as the Bullants kicked four goals, seven behinds. Just as Coburg were looking dangerous in the middle of the quarter, and the Preston side were at risk of squandering the wind advantage, Murphy kicked two late goals, and a behind, to give the Bullants a 23 point lead at three quarter time.
Like a cricket captain declaring before the final day of a Test match, Josh Fraser must have wondered whether they had enough of a score on the board to hold on.
At 20 minutes into the final quarter, it was clear that the 23-point margin was not going to be enough. In that time, the Lions had kicked 3 goals, five behinds and had also held the Bullants scoreless to level the match.
The eight shots at goal (and a few out of bounds) to nil was reflective of the play with wave after wave of inside 50 entries seemingly having no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Bullants were struggling to get past halfway.
Like an arm wrestler, with their arm bent back, their foe showing no mercy, and their knuckles almost on the table with defeat near, the Bullants could have relaxed their muscles, accepted that the wind made this an unusual match, and tapped out.
But they made a different decision.
And, truthfully, any other choice would have been an insult to the stand their defence made throughout the match, but especially in the final quarter.
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Mutaz El Nour, Doug Lawrence, Ben Silvagni, Zac Hart, Kye Quirk and Matthew Gundry – assisted by Mackie, and Matthew King – faithfully, and calmly, rebounded the ball out of their defensive 50, like sailors bailing out water on a sinking ship, even though they knew the deluge would not stop.
Slowly though, kick by kick, tackle by tackle, stoppage by stoppage, the Bullants pushed back and the play centred most on the outer wing, instead of their defensive 50, for the first time in the quarter.
That last ten minutes featured many memorable interventions.
The most critical one was Billy Murphy taking the ball from the wing, hugging the boundary line with three bounces to inside 50 and then snapping, on his left, to Jean-Luc Velissaris at about 24 minutes. JL’s shot looked easier than it was, considering the wind, but the Bullants fans had their heads in their hands as it sailed right for a behind.
However, it would be the best behind of the season so far as it put the Preston side ahead by a point.
The heroics continued from there.
Mutaz El Nour marked on the goal line at 27 minutes to save a certain goal; Tom Wilson secured a holding the ball decision at 28 minutes to stop a dangerous attack; Tynan Smith smothered at around the same time; Daniel Hughes took the ball out of the ruck contest deep in the defensive 50 and cleared it long on 30 minutes; and Wilson, throughout, was calmly finding teammates with precision passing whilst everyone around him looked harried and harassed.
All of this was done with little intervention from the coaching staff, with all the play on the outer wing far from tactical help, and there being few long stoppages to get word out.
After 31 minutes the siren sounded on a see sawing encounter with the Bullants home by a point to make it three in a row.
Wise heads had prevailed, regardless whether they were on young or mature bodies.
This was one of the most pleasing aspects for assistant coach Paul Dunn.
“From the box, there is not much you can get out when the ball is stuck on the far side of the ground,” he said.
“You can’t get a lot of messages out, so for our group to actually rise to the challenge and change a few things up by themselves out on the ground – you can’t buy that sort of maturity at this stage of where the club’s at.”
In addition, to Hughes, Mitchell and Wilson, Dunn particularly praised the defenders and the debutant.
“I thought Mutaz El Nour really stood up today, he was really good in the aerial contests,” he said.
“Matty Gundry – today he was beautiful by foot and it’s not an easy task when you get someone like Sam Lowson who is pretty potent for Coburg, so we thought Gunners really stood out today and played his role.”
“And a big role for Osk (first gamer Oskar Manton), given that he has been training with the backs all year, to come up and be expected to play forward on twenty minutes notice, that was a good baptism of fire for the young kid.”
A fresh challenge awaits next week on the Gold Coast, against the impressive Southport Sharks.
But coach Josh Fraser must be beginning to believe that his maturing side have the skillset and mindset for most situations.
Northern Bullants 12.11 (83) def. Coburg 12.10 (82)
Goals: Brazier 2, Honey 2, Murphy 2, Smith 2, Strachan 2, Boyd, Mackie
Best: Hughes, Mitchell, El Nour, Jones, Mackie, Gundry
At Piranha Park, Coburg
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