11 and 0 – Doubts remain for some.

A 41 point victory over the Geelong VFL team on Saturday has seen Port Melbourne emulate its opponents “big brother’s” perfect start to the season. Standout efforts for the home team included 10 goals from the dynamic duo of Rose & Galea and a fine performance from Tristan Francis in only his second senior game. Cameron Mooney’s four goals for the Cats grabbed the media spotlight, for me the highlight was the form displayed by Simon Hogan (21 possessions) a terrific return for the young man from Warrnambool who continues his battle with depression.

11 wins from 11 starts for the home team, a handy percentage of 161.40. Impressive stuff, but for some media pundits reservations regarding Port’s ability to win the 2011 pennant remain.

During ABC’s coverage of Saturdays game Peter Donegan and guest commentator David Rhys-Jones were discussing Port Melbourne’s perceived lack of leg speed and how it could be exploited by its opponent on the quick deck at Docklands Stadium on Grand Final day – provided the Borough are there on the last Sunday in September. To his illustrate the point DRJ reminded viewers of that Friday evening in September 2008 when North Ballarat ran Port off their legs when it mattered most.

Whilst Rhys can’t be expected to spend every waking hour of the day studying the makeup of the Borough squad, player personnel at North Port has changed substantially over the past three seasons. A maximum of nine players from the defeated 2008 Grand Final team are possibilities for selection should they advance to the ultimate VFL game of 2011. The inclusion of Nathan Batsanis, Malcolm Lynch & the previously mentioned Francis add pace to the midfield, something the on-ball corps have lacked in recent times. Michael Dillon & Shane Valenti’s ability to “run & carry” will be a bonus should Port Melbourne advance to “the big one”.

On Sunday afternoon I tuned into the digital radio coverage of the VFL match of the day. The commentary team were reviewing the previous day’s action and turned their attention to Port Melbourne. One commentator who should know better, but will remain nameless, used the term “chokers” when describing recent Port Melbourne finals campaigns. He then started talking up the claims of Williamstown, a team that have played in three Preliminary Finals over the past four seasons, but haven’t returned to the Grand Final since their victory over Box Hill in the 2003 finale. Obviously certain media outlets have had their research budgets slashed in recent times!

Whilst there have been many fine performances over the first three months of the season, it hasn’t been the walk in the park a quick glance at the ladder may suggest.  Some of the obstacles Port have faced and hurdled thus far have included.

Removal of the 12-10 rule

Prior to the commencement of the 2011 season Football Victoria removed the 12-10 rule. This rule meant when partially or fully aligned VFL teams faced VFL stand alone clubs(Port Melbourne & Frankston), they were able to play a maximum 12 AFL listed players (including rookies) with the remaining 10 places taken by their VFL listed players. For example the Carlton aligned  Northern Bullants team that went down to the Borough on Easter Saturday consisted of 16 Carlton listed players. In previous seasons the Bullants would have been had access to a maximum of 12 Blues players that afternoon.

Injuries, schminjuries!

Port Melbourne’s 2010 finals campaign was sabotaged by injury. Missing from the First Semi Final team that went down to Box Hill by six points (the Hawks winning goal was scored with less than 30 seconds remaining on the game clock) were reigning Liston Trophy winner Shane Valenti, Adam Bentick, Nathan Batsanis, 2010 leading goal kicker Dean Galea and influential backmen , Stephen Brewer and Hugh Sandilands.

Ayres and his selection committee could have expected a little more luck in getting their first choice team on the park in season 2011. Whilst not as devastating as the situation it found itself in last September, the Boroughs medical &training staff have been kept busy in 2011. Inspirational captain John Baird, who missed the entire 2010 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the previous seasons finals series, and star recruit Wayde Skipper missed the opening fortnight of the season. 2010 VFL team of the year selection Callum Sinclair has struggled all season to regain full fitness, making only one appearance in the senior side thus far. Valenti injured his ankle in the Round 7 mauling of Williamstown and missed three matches. Any joy garnered from the 10 goal hiding handed to reigning premier North Ballarat in Round 12 was tempered by serious injuries to Adam Bentick (leg) and the ferocious Toby Pinwill (facial/eye socket). Both players will be sidelined for a number of weeks, hopefully both can return prior to the senior side sometime prior to the finals. 80 game veteran Adrian Bonaddio (Achilles tendon) has watched this seasons proceedings from the terraces. A return to the playing field may not be too far away, and if he can regain anything close to full match fitness Ayres may be tempted to utilise the talented the 195 centimetre/112 kilogram forward/ruckman.

The draw – no favours there

With the exception of arch rival Williamstown, who are playing ALL matches in season 2011 away from their historic venue in Morris Street whilst it receives a multi-million dollar facelift, you would be hard pressed to find a more daunting program of early season matches. Of its opening four matches Port were drawn to play three of last seasons finalists of the previous season – Box Hill & Northern Bullants (away) and Casey at home.  Challenging visits to Windy Hill (Bendigo) & Northern Oval (North Ballarat) were negotiated with a minimum of fuss.

What’s gone right!

Since deciding to compete as a stand alone team following the end of its alignment with North Melbourne at the end of the 2005 season, Port Melbourne has been an active player in the player transfer market. The 2009/10 off season was no different, with the addition of three fine players in de-listed Hawthorn big man Skipper, former Carlton player Jake Edwards who spent 2010 at Ballarat League club Darley & ex Bulldogs rookie and prolific VFL goal kicker Patrick Rose. Fabian De Luca, Bo Nixon & Tom Langford, three players who had represented the Borough earlier in their respective careers returned to the fold giving the squad a depth it hadn’t had in recent seasons.

All six recruits have seen playing time over the first 11 games. Rose has been magnificent with 51 goals, scoring five goals or more on eight occasions and being a perfect foil for his former Williamstown teammate Galea. Edwards has fitted in exceptionally well to a backline that has conceded the least amount of points in the competition. Skipper has started to find the form that saw him play 15 of Hawthorns final 16 games last year, and was a surprisingly axed by the Hawks last October. Of the departures only Phillip Raymond, Dylan McLaren and Wayne Schultz saw extended playing time in the seniors last year.

No guarantees

Despite the well documented list of injuries the team has had to endure, Ayres has had the luxury of penciling in the names of 9 players who have managed to appear in all 11 games thus far – a list that includes the competitions leading goal scorer Rose, midfielders Dillon, Chris Cain and the evergreen Ryan McMahon. Importantly almost the entire backline Edwards, Sandilands, Jarrod Dalton, Marc Johnson & Sam Pleming can be added to the list of “ever presents” providing continuity that has resulted in the stingy Borough defence conceding a miserly average of 76 points per game. The selection committee has been willing to make a change or two were required, which has resulted in 40 players representing the senior side in the first 11 matches, a phenomenal number considering the team success.

Kudos must go to Ayres & his coaching staff on their ability to entice quality VFL list players to the club. Galea, Rose, Johnson, Francis, Sinclair, Sandilands & Dan Keely are just some of the players that have made significant contributions to the team since arriving from competing VFL clubs. Port have utilized the 23rd man rule – VFL teams can name a 23rd player for a match, providing that player is currently playing TAC Cup football in 2011 or played TAC Cup football in 2010 – to great effect. Three men to make their VFL debuts have included Jake Dermott, son of four time premiership player Greg “Biff” Dermott, Damian Mascitti & Matthew Arnot. None appeared to be overawed by playing against the hardened bodies of mature age men, with Dermott playing a valuable role in the superb victory at Cramer Street, his smother and goal in the third quarter of the clash with the Bullants coming at a crucial point in proceedings.

The run home

Should Ayres’ men prevail when they take on Tarkyn Lockyer’s young Collingwood team at the Magpies spiritual home at Victoria Park on Saturday week and back up with a home victory over Bendigo seven days later, it will equal its best ever start to a season since it won its opening 13 matches of the 1952 VFA season. Four of its final seven games will be played at home, a venue that has seen it lose only 5 matches (including two finals) in Ayres’ three and a half year reign as senior coach. A top two finish would earn them the right to host a Week 1 final, a huge advantage when considering the recent home record.

The midfield grunt provided by both Pinwill & Bentick will be sorely missed over the next 6-8 games and it’s hoped either or both can see some playing time prior to the finals. Whilst it will be quite an ask of Bonaddio to regain match fitness in time for the push to the flag Ayres will be hoping Sinclair can rediscover his 2010 form prior to September to offer another marking option up forward.

The 2011 version of the Port Melbourne Football Club looks the best placed of any recent model to deliver the clubs sixteenth pennant . The elusive title drought commenced following the surprise win over red hot favourite Preston in the 1982 decider, a time when JM Fraser was in the Lodge, the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series went to Hill Street Blues, John Belushi died, Monty Panesar was born and Time Magazines Man of the year went to – the computer. The Port diehards have been patiently awaiting the arrival of Premiership XVI. It’s been a long time between celebratory drinks. Just as Newton, Limb, Hannan, Faulkner, Thompson and a cavalcade of local celebrities advocated almost 40 years ago, It’s Time.




  1. John Butler says


    It seems in the case of both Port and Geelong many folk had their narratives pre-written.

    However, the teams continue to confuse things by refusing to lose.

  2. Dave Nadel says

    If stand alone club Port Melbourne wins the VFL Premiership, while Collingwood and Geelong (who play their own Seconds rather than “align” with a VFA club) play off in the AFL Grand Final, do you think the penny might finally drop that “alignment” isn’t good for Victorian football? Do you think there is any chance that we might actually see a revival of the VFA and the AFL (Victorian) Reserves as seperate competitions?

  3. Mic Rees says

    John – You’d have recived healthy odds if you wanted to back either teams (Cats/Port) entering the new financial year undefeated.

    Dave – I’d imagine all AFL teams based in Melbourne would be keen to run their own “reserves” team as C’wood, Geelong, and Esendon (as Bendigo) do, probably it would be an expanded VFL comp (2 divisions/groups). I fear that a few VFL teams who are currently aligned would struggle to come up with the cash to survive. What happens to those teams – Death/rejoin suburban league – would those leagues admit them ?


  4. David Downer says

    Not a Borough fan Mic, but thanks for the read!
    The estimated cost of running a stand-alone VFL side I think is in the vicinity of $300k (correct me if I’m wrong someone?). Most clubs don’t have that sort of spare coin (or resourcing) presently, or are currently locked into alignment contracts with their VFL affiliate. While Port Melbourne have performed exceptionally well in recent years as a stand-alone club, at the other end of the scale is Frankston who are flogged every week.
    How much Collingwood and Geelong’s current AFL dominance can be explained by fielding their own reserves side, I think, is hard to measure. That’s not to say I would discount it as being a significant positive influence, but is it the reason lifting them to a higher plane than other clubs presently? Or is it still more down to the product of a great list, at the right time, superior coaching, recruiting, management and resources, and say, a favourable draw. You could argue that for a bounce here or there, St Kilda would have two flags in the bank (sigh) while being aligned with a VFL club that itself wasn’t even contesting finals in 09/10.
    The injection of cash with the new TV rights deal might allow some AFL clubs to consider fielding their own side when their VFL alignment contracts finish – and if so, the whole composition of the second tier competition would come up for serious debate again – although it seems like the future of the VFL and the other eastern seaboard competitions are up for debate every year. Maybe what the players eventually score in their revenue deal could have a major bearing on whether clubs have the spare funds to go it alone with their own reserves.
    If we do return to a VFA/AFL reserves type arrangement, it mightn’t necessarily be a bad result – but I just hope the traditional VFA sides can survive it. It may even enhance their connection with the local community and foster more support in that way – but perhaps that’s way too optimistic for life in year 2011 and beyond.
    And I will declare that as a Saints supporter, with family links to Sandringham – the current situation works well for me!

  5. Mark Doyle says

    An interesting article, Mick, especially the mentions of non-AFL listed players. Most of the coverage of the VFL by ABC TV and ‘The Age’ newspaper focuses on the AFL players, including AFL rookies. I believe the reason Port Melbourne are doing well is that they probably have more mature fully grown men than AFL seconds teams such as Geelong and Collingwood. Gary Ayres is also a very good coach – he coached my AFL club Geelong for 5 years and did a good job.
    The issue of an independent second tier semi-professional Melbourne based competition should be debated. I believe that the AFL should implement a national 18 team reserves comp. This would allow independent comps. in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

  6. Mic Rees says

    Dave – Whilst it’s difficult to say how beneficial running your own entity in the VFL, I’m sure it isn’t a hinderence, and if clubs had the cash would do so. It has probably helped fast track a few young Pies in recent years. Geelong have run their own team in the VFL since the “big bang” of 2000, their 2002 VFL premiership winning team including players such as Ablett, Chapman, Bartel, Steve Johnson. Keep supporting those Zeb’s.

    Mark – Should your proposed AFL National reserves comp get “green-lit” the TV rights money can help pay the airfares for the added travel. Good point regarding mature bodies, Matt Arnot who was PM’s 23rd man in the game against Nth Ballarat looked incredibly strong from the waist down – good choice of player considering the opponent that day has a number of experienced/hard bodied players.


  7. Dave Nadel says

    I am still convinced that a seconds comp is the way to go for the AFL clubs. David D is right that St Kilda nearly won two flags with an alignment, but most of the players that nearly won for St Kilda were over 25, Collingwood and Geelong have a much larger group of quality youngsters available to them. Part of that may be due to good drafting but I think the pace that the young men developed had a lot to do full control of their development in the seconds.

    I also agree with David that some current VFL clubs can’t afford to stand alone as Port Melbourne have. I think the answer to this is to lower the level of the competition, so that the players are semi-professional as they were in the old VFA (or in the old VFL until about 1980.) If the VFA was semi-professional it might even be possibIe to re-establish some of the classic VFA clubs like Dandenong, Oakleigh and Moorabbin. It might be harder, given the changed demographics, to recover the old inner suburban clubs like Brunswick, Northcote and Prahran but it would be something to aim for.

  8. Go Burras !!!

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