By: Daniel Kelly (@Ukurrie)
Photo By: Owen Jones (@digital_beard)
The Bullants gamestyle is holding up in the early days of the 2023 VFL Premiership season, even if it resulted in a 23 point Round 3 defeat to Essendon at ETU Stadium; 12.16 (88) to 9.11 (65).
The Ants hosted the Bombers in Port Melbourne due to the centre square at Genis Steel Oval not being suitable for a match.
Essendon’s margin only once exceeded 10 points up until three quarter time as the Bullants matched the Bombers for clearances and inside 50s across the match on a cold and greasy Easter Sunday.
Saad El-Hawli (24 disposals, 10 marks) epitomised coach Brodie Holland’s eagerness to create attack off half back, and co-captain Liam Mackie (23 disposals) had plenty of opportunities to launch forward taking kick out duty but also consistently droving the Ants inside 50.
Jean-Luc Velissaris (28 disposals, 12 clearances, one goal) and Patrick Fairlea (24 disposals, eight clearances) combined with Jackson Barling (nine tackles) and Dylan Clarke (seven tackles, one goal) to match it with Essendon’s AFL listed midfielders Will Snelling (28 disposals, two goals) and Ben Hobbs (27 disposals, one goal).
Brandon Ryan (two goals) continues to be a threat forward and Holland will be pleased that seven players – Tyson Young, Jake Parente, Perry Lewis-Smith, Ben Hurley, Henko Cronje, Velissaris and Clarke – kicked a goal each.
Snelling and Hobbs were constants for Essendon, as was Samuel Conforti who added three goals to 25 possessions.
The Bullants led for much of the second quarter before the Bombers had 11 scoring shots compared to the Ants four in the third.
Luckily for the Bullants, Essendon only goaled on four of those occasions, but the Bombers fitness and talent was starting to wear the Ants down.
The Bullants fought hard in the final quarter but Essendon kicked away with the final margin of 23 points being a little unfair on the Northern side.
Work in progress
The 2023 Bullants are intent on moving the ball faster at every opportunity – especially out of defence.
This is not a new strategy but that it looks, on early inspection, to be more sustainable reflects well on the new coaching staff and players alike. The possession numbers have risen in response to the fast ball movement – the Ants are averaging more possessions in this young season than in 2021 and 2022.
The Ants are also maintaining their history of strength in clearances despite many of the midfield names changing and an understandable dip in hit out wins (whilst they settle on a ruck combination – the Bombers Josh Hotchkin had 50 hitouts dueling against Cronje) compared to the prior two seasons.
Whilst they are winless after two matches, there is clearly potential in the strategy and the squad.
The Bullants will return to ETU Stadium in Round 4 to meet Port Melbourne who, after defeating North Melbourne in Round 1, have lost to Collingwood and Williamstown by a combined 129 points.
BULLANTS 1.4 5.6 8.7 9.11 (65)
ESSENDON 2.3 5.5 9.12 12.16 (88)
Bullants: Ryan 2, Young, Velissaris, Parente, Lewis-Smith, Hurley, Cronje, Clarke
Essendon: Conforti 3, Snelling 2, Rasinac 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Voss, Hobbs, Cootee
Bullants: El-Hawli, Velissaris, Fairlie, Lewis-Smith, Ryan
Essendon: Hobbs, Snelling, Conforti, Montgomorie, Hotchkin