By: Daniel Kelly (@Ukurrie)
Photo: Whitlam Malkoun
372 days had passed since the Bullants last victory and 660 days since the last win at Genis Steel Oval in Preston leading in to Round 5 of the 2023 VFL Premiership season.
Both clocks now reset after the maturing Bullants resisted a late Sydney charge to produce a 14.9 (93) to 9.12 (66) victory over the Swans.
New coach Brodie Holland’s new look Bullants granted two debuts – midfielder Cam Wild and winger Ben Ham – and welcomed Sean Martin back as Ethan Mantas, Harrison Kennedy and Liam Mackie (injured) made way.
The Bullants looked the better side from the outset and gradually increased their lead to 23 points halfway through the third quarter. However, Sydney kicked four goals in a row – including three in three minutes – to somehow lead at the final break by two points.
The Ants responded and kicked five goals in the final quarter, and held the Swans to three behinds, for a landmark victory for Holland and much of the playing group.
Brandon Ryan stamped his credentials as a genuine talent with five goals, three of which came when the game was there to be won in the final quarter.
Jean-Luc Velissaris, practically a veteran of this side celebrating his 50th VFL game, continues to be Holland’s most consistent and classiest contributor. His permanent move to the midfield is paying dividends – he finished with 32 disposals, two goals, five clearances, and eight tackles.
Highly touted Baker Smith had a breakout game taking 13 marks across centre half back with many of the Ants rebound attacks (17 more than Sydney) instigated by his intercept marking.
Whilst not his most impactful game on the scoreboard, Tyson Young (21 possessions) continues to be a difficult matchup for opponents.
A physical inside mid at stoppages, he becomes a headache in the forward line – too tall (194cms) and strong for medium-sized defenders, but too damaging at ground level for taller backs to contain.
In addition to Ryan and Velissaris, Will Sexton (two), Jake Parente, Zach Morris, Perry Lewis-Smith, Patrick Fairlie and the versatile Ben Hurley added majors.
Wild, the grandson of Bullant goalkicking and premiership legend Len Clark, made a strong debut.
He has represented Vic Country at Under 18 level, as well as been part of the Collingwood and Northern Blues VFL squads previously. His father, Jason, played for Collingwood in the AFL in the late 90’s.
Wearing his grandfather’s number 32 jumper, Wild grew into the game. A regular at stoppages, he wore down opposition midfielders with close contact which translated into seven tackles, before winning the ball himself 22 times, including six clearances.
Ham, from Greensborough Football Club and still eligible for the Northern Knights, belied his age with an assured performance and found space after half time to accumulate 12 disposals on debut.
Patrick Fairlie goaled late to put the Ants up by 15 points with 10 minutes to go. His possession numbers (19) were slightly down but he also was running with the Swans Angus Sheldrick, who racked up 39 possessions and two goals, in the second half.
Sheldrick was dominant for Sydney, but consistent support was hard to find elsewhere, despite the Swans fielding 12 AFL listed players.
Corey Warner finished with 23 possessions for Sydney, and Hugo Hall-Kahan two goals but, despite Lachlan McAndrew and Tom Hickey dominating the ruck contest (55 hit outs to 20), the Ants midfield core shaded clearances (+2).
Brandon Ryan’s big day out
Ryan’s potential is obvious – 22 years old, 200cm tall, athletic – but, after stints within the Geelong and Essendon VFL groups, it is clear that it is coming together at Genis Steel Oval.
With the height and jump to outmark most defenders, Ryan also reads the play well and can outrun the opposition back to the goalsquare to capitalise on turnovers and fast ball movement.
His five goals (and only two behinds) came from one-on-one marks in the goal square, a pack mark, a shot from outside fifty, and a delicate (for a left footer) middle distance attempt in the left pocket.
The Bullants travel north to take on Southport in Queensland on Saturday April 29, commencing at 12.05pm. The Sharks are, unusually given their strong history, in 10th position on the ladder with two wins after five games.
As with all matches, the game will be streamed live on the AFL website.
BULLANTS 2.3 7.5 9.7 14.9 (93)
SYDNEY 1.4 4.4 9.9 9.12 (66)
Bullants: Ryan 5, Velissaris 2, Sexton 2, Parente, Morris, Lewis-Smith, Hurley, Fairlie
Sydney: Sheldrick 2, Hall-Kahan 2, Vickery, Owen, Morrison, McAndrew, Bartholomaeus
Bullants: Velissaris, Ryan, Smith, Wild, Young
Sydney: Sheldrick, Warner, Hall-Kahan, McAndrew