Tynan Smith and Billy Murphy celebrate a goal during the Bullants’ famous win over the Blues. Photo: Nathan McNeill.

Match Report: By Daniel Kelly

When the history of the Bullants is written, they will keep a few pages aside for this win.

Sure, it was noteworthy as the first win of the 2021 season, at the seventh time of asking.

It will be memorable as the time the reborn Bullants, in their famous red and white, broke through for the first time since they returned as a standalone club.

It was fitting that it came at the Preston City Oval.

But it will be unforgettable because it came against Carlton.

Sport has a way of providing as much drama as the fiction section of any library, the hottest trending charts on the streaming service of choice, or the most intriguing legal cases. Sport has a way of bending meaning and history into what is supposed to be just a leisurely pastime.

And so it was that this was not just any win, not only because of how long it took to arrive in 2021, nor that it was the first back at Preston City Oval as the Bullants for so long.

That it came against Carlton, the Bullants dance partner for so many years, who left them mid-waltz on the ballroom floor last year, was how any author, screenwriter or high priced defence lawyer would script it.

It would though, be inaccurate to label this 14.16 (100) to 10.8 (68) win as one driven purely by emotion, bent on revenge, or the result of Churchillian speeches from coach Josh Fraser.

This win was due to the Bullants being superior in almost every department than the Blues through a sustainable game style, supported by a deep, hard running midfield core who wore Carlton down over the course of the game.

Tynan Smith, at his bullocking best with four goals (and it could have been more), was the greatest beneficiary in the forward line from the first use of the ball which Daniel Hughes provided to his engine room across the afternoon. Jack Boyd (two goals) alternated between the attacking fifty and the ruck reliably.

Hughes was wholehearted at the bounces, often seen clearing the ball from stoppages himself, and around the ground to ensure a contest at every opportunity. Whilst the hit out and clearance totals were broadly even, the quality of delivery was clearly in Hughes’s favour.

But it was the midfield who, when the game was in balance, were winning the majority of ground balls.

Will Mitchell, returning from injury, was dominant, leading the team in disposals (25), handballs (16), tackles (8), and clearances (8). He shared centre bounce duties with captain Tom Wilson (22 disposals); the also returning Tim Jones (14 disposals); the continuing to impress Sunny Brazier (15 disposals, 5 tackles and unluckly not to have multiple goals); and Paul Ahern (17 disposals, one goal).

To accompany a black eye and bandages, Wilson also accumulated two goals. His second, in the third quarter to put his side up by 21 points, from a set shot from just inside and on a 45 degree angle which never wavered, would not be out of place in the dictionary as an example for ‘captain’s goal’.

The onballers were complimented by the likes of Matthew King, Kye Quirk and Liam Mackie who continuously presented and built strong links between the stoppages and inside 50 entries.

Billy Murphy (21 possessions, 2 goals, 4 clearances) had an inspired match full of hard running, often successfully taking the opposition on when the odds were not in his favour, in an afternoon full of hard ball wins.

The defence too, stood up when required, especially in the first half when the flow of play was more even and Carlton were attacking with precision. Doug Lawrence, Mutaz El Nour and Ben Silvagni stood tall late as well to ensure Carlton could not ignite a spark.

Lawrence had a particularly eventful fourth quarter. First, he took a Leo Barry 2005 Grand Final style mark to snuff out a Blues attack. A few moments later, he drifted back into a pack courageously and showed strong hands to mark.

And finally, for good measure, on a muddy centre square, he lost his footing and ended up on his knees as the ball was rifling towards him, but still managed to reflexively pull the ball in like he was in the slips cordon at the Boxing Day Test.

Whilst the Bullants would emerge comfortable winners, the game was in the balance until Wilson’s goal in the third quarter gave the Preston side some breathing room.

At three quarter time, Fraser could see his men were on the verge of everything they had been building to all season. He would also have been cautious given that the Bullants had not yet strung together a four-quarter performance.

Fraser asked the team to “own your moments”, knowing that Carlton would give one final surge. If, as a collective, the Bullants could hold their nerve and play their individual roles, the rewards would be worth it.

And so it proved as the Bullants dominated the play in the last and were cheered off the ground by a healthy home crowd, some of whom even joined the players in the rooms for the first song of the season afterwards.

It’s worth noting that some of the foundations of this win were built a week ago.

At three quarter time, hopelessly out of the match against Frankston at an empty venue and being heckled by the opposition on their way to the huddle, Fraser asked them what did they want to do.

Play the game out, bruise free, take the loss and get out of there? Or, lay a foundation for the rest of the season, draw a line in the sand, and walk off with some respect?

They chose the latter in a five-goal-to-one final quarter.

Fraser allowed himself some reflective moments afterwards before the cycle of reviewing and planning begins again.

“I am really proud of the players, firstly, I think they deserve to feel a result because of the work they have put in,” he said post-match.

“And it is not just the guys who got a chance to pull on our great jumper, it’s the whole playing list who keep investing.”

“I guess we’ve felt that we’ve been getting closer each week and some of our good footy has really stacked up well against quality sides.”

“Our message has been, regardless of the result, to just keep learning, and we just felt that it was going to come together for us.”

“I guess it’s coincidental in terms of our opponent today but it’s more been that ongoing process of improvement. We are still, by far, the most inexperienced club in the competition, so these young players are learning what the VFL is like.”

“I think it is a watershed moment where the penny has dropped for a few of them. We have to learn to handle a win now – we’ve learnt to handle losses and grow from losses, but you can also grow from winning results.”

“To see so many supporters here today, to see the crowd as we exit the field, is something I will remember for a long time, being our first win as a standalone footy club.”

“These are little moments you’ve got to embrace in footy and enjoy – looking around during the song and seeing everyone’s faces”

Fraser should be proud of the way the group, the club, and the fans have held their belief in the strategy which led to their first win.

And if the sporting gods deem that it should all come together against Carlton at the Preston City Oval, then who are we to argue.

Northern Bullants 14.16 (100)
Carlton 10.8 (68)

Goals – Northern Bullants: Smith 4, Boyd 2, Murphy 2, Wilson 2, Ahern, King, Mackie, Velissaris