Photo: Nathan McNeill (NWM Sports)

By: Daniel Kelly (@UKurrie)

The scoreboard never lies, but sometimes it is loose with the truth.

An inaccurate Northern Bullants fell to the Collingwood VFL side at Preston City Oval 14.13.97 to 8.14.62, and history will record a 35-point loss.

And it is fair to say that the Magpies clearly deserved their win – they were the better side.

But the Bullants led until late into the second quarter and then stayed in touch with a slick Collingwood outfit as an arm wrestle ensued in the third quarter.

The Bullants actually closed the gap to two points nine minutes into the final quarter before the Magpies kicked the final five goals of the game.

A clinical assessment of the result would focus on the final moments where the game got out of hand and the lack of conversion in front of goal, and no doubt those items will be covered during the week.

However, new midfield coach Jason Williams believes equal energy should be spent on what the Ants did well to compete with such a professional team only 13 games into the Preston team’s rebirth.

‘Amongst the playing group and coaches there is a high level of frustration,’ he admitted, before sharing that the team is reflecting on where that irritation is originating.

‘We had a really good pre-season and I think sometimes we misplace our expectations and put it a little bit too high, and we should be celebrating the small things we do well rather than looking forward to the bigger things we’re trying to achieve.’

Williams rightly pointed to the evenness of the team stats as an indicator that the Ants can compete and perhaps it is the pressure they put on themselves that is affecting their ability to convert performance into results.

‘Across the board, when you look at the stats, it was pretty close and, I think, we lost the game because we went really internal,’ Williams said.

‘And, rather than looking outwards and looking at what are we doing well and what is my teammate doing well, we were more worried about if I miss a kick, or that the person next to me didn’t do what they were supposed to do.’

‘So, I think as soon as we can start looking outwards and what we can do for other people and play with love and care for eachother, we’re going to be in a much better place. I reckon that will take the expectation away from us a little bit too.’

Jack Boyd and Billy Murphy kicked two goals for the Ants, and Kyle Dunkley, Daniel Hughes, Tynan Smith and Jean-Luc Velissaris added singles towards the final tally.

The Magpies also had an even spread of goal kickers with nine players contributing majors, five of them adding two each.

Tom Wilson (23 disposals), Matthew Gundry off half-back (22), Matthew King (22), Jackson Barling (19, five clearances and seven tackles), aerialist Mutaz El Nour (18) and high impact Baxter Knight (18 and four tackles) all contributed well for the Bullants.

Jaden Collins, Ethan Penrith and Ben De Bolfo down back continue to prove their worth at VFL level against quality opposition talent which included marking Mason Cox when he was not in the ruck.

With the usual wind blowing to the city end of Preston City Oval, the Bullants controlled possession and had two goals inside four minutes from Billy Murphy and Jack Boyd.

The balance of the team looked good with Boyd and power forward Daniel Hughes flying for marks whilst Murphy, Smith, Harrison Kennedy and Velissaris were mobile and applying pressure on any Magpie attempt to exit defence.

Smith and Hughes would goal late in the quarter and, whilst the Bullants would take a 31 to 14 lead at quarter time, their 11 scoring shots to four hinted that the lead could and should have been more.

This was laid bare in the second quarter when the Magpies kicked five goals (a goal every three times they entered their attacking fifty) to the Bullants one behind, and the game had turned in Collingwood’s favour 47 to 32.

Accuracy continued to thwart the Bullants in the third with the wind as Velissaris and Murphy (his second) added two goals, but the team added five behinds. The Magpies, into the wind, added two goals, four behinds and led 63 to 49 at three quarter time.

In characteristic style, the Bullants did not give in and kicked the first two goals to close to within two points inside the first ten minutes of the final quarter – Kyle Dunkley kicked a goal after a minute and Jack Boyd added his second eight minutes later.

But the Magpies finished full of running and kicked five goals in the next 16 minutes with precise transition football.

There were glimpses of the fast ball movement the Bullants are trying to refine this year and a good example pf that was the second Boyd goal which gave the Ants life.

Tim Jones marked in his defensive goal square and quickly moved the ball to the ever-present Matthew King on defensive fifty. King chipped it to Zac Hart who offloaded a quick handball to a supporting runner who flicked it on to Jones again, who by now has now made it to level with the centre circle.

Jones willed the ball forward to Billy Murphy who, under pressure, accepted that he will be floored but still chips a clever kick in front of the Baxter Knight.

Knight was running at full tilt from his position on the wing, where he was most impressive all day, towards the Ants half forward position.

He collected in his stride and sent a long ball forward to tall timbers Jack Boyd and Daniel Hughes, and Boyd outmuscled his man to mark in the goalsquare and ultimately goal.

This is exactly the lightning the Bullants are trying to catch in a bottle in 2022, as exemplified by the recruitment led by Grant King and Jackson Tierney.

They know their inside midfield group will consistently win contests at ground level but winning the ground ball is only half the battle – you need the runners to swiftly shift that ball to open targets.

Matthew King, amongst the Bullants best on this day, says helping with that transition is something he is working on.

‘I’ve played a number of different roles – both inside and outside – and I played a little bit more outside today,’ King said.

Midfield coach Williams is keen to get the right balance of Ants in the contest, and those waiting to receive the ball on outside.

‘It is just about holding width, backing your weapons and backing yourself in, and when the game comes to you, you take it on,’ King said.

King felt the Ants had enough of the ball and chances to win the game.

‘Again, it was probably our opportunities, similar to last week (a two point loss to Footscray), we got enough of the footy and we were good enough around the contest but I guess it was just going forward and lapses in concentration,’ he said.

On his own game, King felt it reflected the Ants effort overall.

‘I feel like I am getting into good spots,’ he said. ‘Again, it is those lapses in concentration and it is lowering the differences between your good and your bad,’ King said that he needs to work on.

The Bullants have a 1.05pm Easter Sunday showdown in Sydney with the Swans in Round 4 – the game can be streamed live and on demand on the AFL website.

They will be hopeful of a return for Doug Lawrence after welcoming back Ben Silvagni against the Magpies. Liam Mackie still has three matches to serve on his suspension.

Midfield coach Williams is aware of the selection headache Will Mitchell’s return from injury will cause in two or three weeks.

‘I’m not looking forward to that conversation because we do have players who are playing reasonably well,’ he said. ‘But when we’re playing well and still not winning something does need to change.’

Williams also has a message for the Bullants fans, similar to the that which the coaching staff are expressing to the players – look for the tangible positives within the game and the bigger picture wins will come.

‘Hang in there with us, we’re a young side and we’re growing every week,’ Williams said.

‘In years gone by maybe we roll over a little bit earlier, or maybe last week we don’t lose by two points – we lose it by a few more.’

‘There’s so many signs of growth and we’re going to be a better football side – it just has to click for us.’

Goals: Boyd (2), Murphy (2), Dunkley, Hughes, Smith, Velissaris

Best: King, El Nour, Barling, Knight, Gundry, Penrith