By: Daniel Kelly
Photo: Whitlam Malkoun
In the first Battle of Bell St for almost two years, the Northern Bullants won a classic by seven points at Piranha Park, 12.15 (87) to the Coburg Lions 12.8 (80).
The previous encounter in 2021 was also a thriller with the Bullants victorious by one point.
2023 recruit, Cam Wild, turned in a dominant two-way performance to win the Harold M Martin Medal as the best player afield between the neighbourhood rivals.
Wild collected 32 disposal, seven clearances, 12 marks and kicked his first goal for the club whilst also cooling the Lions major ballwinner Flynn Gentile, who finished with 17 disposals.
Up until half time, almost every goal changed the lead, before the Bullants eked out a nine-point lead at the main break.
The Ants mostly controlled the first half of the third quarter, pulling out to a 17-point lead, before three goals late in the quarter, and the first of the last, put the Lions in front.
The final quarter twisted and turned as Coburg led by nine points before the Ants clawed their way back through two clinical goals to Jean-Luc Velissaris (26 possessions, eight clearances, two goals), either side of Perry Lewis-Smith’s goal to put the Northern side in front.
Late contested marks in defensive 50 from Wild, Baker Smith, and Tyson Young, in between Velissaris’ two goals and the go ahead goal from Lewis-Smith, shored up the Ants second win of the season.
Coach Brodie Holland made four changes after the loss to the Box Hill Hawks, as he continues to assess his raw squad.
A debut was given to midfielder Will Richards, who might have featured in 2022 if not for a serious hip injury. Also coming in to the side was John Roumeliotis, Ethan Jackson and Ben Nikolovski.
Going out of the side was Jake Parente, Henko Cronje, Ben Hurley and Dylan Clarke.
Despite it being a sunny day, the ball became heavy early due to the muddy centre square.
The quality of disposal suffered but the resulting turnovers only added to the engaging nature of the match, which the healthy and vocal crowd enjoyed, showing the passion that still exists for traditional standalone matchups.
Finnbar Maley’s return in recent weeks has made the Ants more competitive in the ruck generally and, for the first time this season, helped them just win the hit outs for the match (+1), where they normally suffer from a significant gap.
Captain Matthew King (26 disposals, 13 marks, one goal and two behinds) was prolific around the ground, constantly driving the team forward. His football smarts also picked off one (but he almost had two) Lions kick in which resulted in a set shot for goal.
Velissaris spent most of the first three quarters on the defensive side of stoppages, and the play, quarterbacking Ants attacks.
Coach Holland moved him into a more central role in the final quarter and his cool snap, roved from a goal square marking contest under intense pressure to put the Ants within one point midway through the quarter, summed up his confidence and ability in 2023.
Velissaris later marked and calmly goaled with almost 30 minutes on the fourth quarter clock to put the Ants seven points up and ice the game.
Tyson Young (21 disposals, five marks, three goals) and Brandon Ryan (16 disposals, seven marks, one goal and three behinds) proved difficult to contain in the forward line as marking options and Lions defenders were never safe with Roumeliotis applying a physical presence in the air and on the ground.
For the Lions, Mitch Podhajski took 14 marks to go along with his 25 disposals, Hugo McGlashan was consistent with 25 possessions, and Aaron Clarke and Jhye Baddeley-Kelly kicked three goals each.
The 19th placed Bullants (two wins in season 2023) take on another traditional VFA opponent – the 18th placed Frankston Dolphins (also with two wins).
Play commences at 2.05 pm at Genis Steel Oval in Preston on Saturday 20 May.
COBURG 3.3 6.3 9.7 12.8 (80)
BULLANTS 3.0 7.6 8.10 12.15 (87)
Coburg Clarke 3, Baddeley-Kelly 3, Weightman 2, Thompson 2, Bella, Boucher
Bullants: Young 3, Velissaris 2, King, Honey, El-Hawli, Wild, Ryan, Nikolovski, Lewis-Smith
Coburg: M Podhaskhi, Clarker, Baddely-Kelly, McGlashan, Gillard
Bullants: Wild, Velissaris, King, Young, Fairlie