21 straight – one perfect day, one perfect season.

When it disposed of its oldest and fiercest rival Williamstown by more than nine goals on Grand Final day, the Port Melbourne Football Club ended the longest pennant drought in the famous club’s history, a barren stretch dating back to 1982 when Gary Brice’s underdogs upset Ray Shaw’s heavily favoredPrestonto win the decider by 7 points.

29 years is a long time. Ding dong the witch is dead!

If you’re going to break your duck you might as well do it in style. This Borough squad can’t be accused of doing things in half measures. Their record for the 2011 season will read now, and forever, a perfect 21 wins from 21 starts. In the process they became the first VFA/VFL team to achieve the “invincibles” tag since the 1918North Melbourneteam saluted in all 10 home & away games plus two finals matches.

So, how did they do it? After replaying the Grand Final on numerous occasions over the past two weeks I’ve come up with the following factors/reasons how Gary Ayres’ Red & Blue “weekend warriors” restored the premiership sheen to the club for the first time in almost three decades.

Selective recruiting: After injuries had sabotaged their finals push 12 months earlier, Port hit the recruiting trail. Hard. Quality was added to an already strong list by acquiring an experienced ruckman in Wayde Skipper, prolific VFL goal kicker Pat Rose, defender Jake Edwards and the speedy Tristan Francis. All figured prominently in the teams 2011 success – Rose won the VFL goal kicking title, Edwards’ played a starring role in the stingiest backline in the competition, Skipper lead the clubs big man department admirably after a delayed start to the campaign and Francis added dash to the back half and midfield.

A dynamic midfield: The reigning, and by the end of season repeat, Liston Trophy winner Shane Valenti lead a star studded fleet of midfielders. Potential AFL draftees Sam Dwyer, Mal Lynch, Nathan Batsanis and the aforementioned Francis provided plenty of pace to the on ball department. Evergreen Ryan McMahon, the indestructible Toby Pinwill and until his season was ended in Round 12, Adam Bentick, provided the grunt. Captain John Baird’s work at the stoppages during the final series was superb and the underrated Mick Dillon’s provided quality back up when required.

Rock solid defence: Opposition teams reached the ton on only four occasions in 2011, six times the miserly backline kept their opponents under 10 goals for the afternoon. Jarrod Dalton, Sam Pleming, Hugh Sandilands and the aforementioned Dillon didn’t miss a beat, or a game for that matter, for the whole season. Jake Edwards had a superb year and both Stephen Brewer and Marc Johnson provided great service during their senior team stints.

Forwards kicking goals for fun: The two pronged attacked of Pat Rose (79 goals in 21 games) & Dean Galea (71/20) were the most dangerous one/two punch seen at North Port since Fred Cook and Graeme Anderson terrorized VFA backlines in the early 80’s. Ironically Rose and Galea are ex Williamstown players which makes their combined efforts of 11 goals on Grand Final day all the more enjoyable. Chris Cain enhanced his reputation as one of the smartest small forwards in the VFL kicking 37 goals for the year. He too remains a chance to be drafted in a few weeks time. Retiring hero McMahon’s 26 goals were invaluable.

Stability:Dalton, Pleming, Sandilands, Dillon, Cain & Rose appeared in all 21 games. Five others in Batsanis, Dwyer, Edwards, Galea and McMahon each made 20 appearances. Baird and Skipper played the remaining 19 games following their delayed starts to the season in Round 3. Congratulations to the medical, physio and training staff for their magnificent efforts in having the players available through such a taxing campaign.

Depth: 42 players represented the team in 2011, 7 making their senior VFL debuts. Fortune smiled on the team regarding its ability to get its best team on the park, but there were a few headaches along the way. A serious ankle injury in mid June ended the hard working Adam Bentick’s season prematurely. Draft hopeful Callum Sinclair couldn’t replicate his superlative 2010 form, his season blighted with injury and indifferent form. The raging bull Adrian Bonaddio was restricted to only 2 senior games late in the season after sustaining a nasty leg injury during the pre-season. The promising Myles Pitt was denied his chance at a flag when he suffered a season ending knee injury early in the Boroughs heart stopping win over Williamstown in August.

It’s fair to suggest the Borough enjoyed a little luck during the year to keep their streak intact. When looking back over the home & away season I can think of a few occasions when the gods smiled upon Ayres’ men – the disappointing Sandringhamhad chances in both meetings to inflict what would have been upset wins over Port. Had Williamstown’s Brett Goodes’ shot on the run veered left and not right late in the August clash at Werribee the winning sequence could’ve stopped at 15. If not for the Herculean efforts of John Baird and Toby Pinwill during the final quarter of the epic win over the Bullants in the 1st Preliminary Final, the season could’ve ended a week earlier than it did. That brings me to Toby Pinwill.

No one has shed more blood, sweat or tears for the Borough over the past seven seasons than Tobias Pinwill. He’d run the full gamut of emotions during the past 12 months after his 2010 season ended in disgrace. Pinwill was red carded and sent from the field early in the knock out final against Box Hill after being reported for the second time in little over 30 minutes of play. His subsequent 4 week suspension meant a delayed start to the 2011 season. He returned to senior duty for the Round 7 smashing of Williamstown; however five weeks later his season took a turn for the worse on a miserable (weather) day in Ballarat. Less than ten minutes after Adam Bentick’s season ended (see above) Pinwill’s annus horribilis amazingly went from appalling to horrendous when he suffered a serious facial injury. Initial reports suggested he’d be lucky to return to the field prior to the start of 2012. It’s not often you leaveNorth Ballarat with a ten goal victory feeling as empty as many of us did on June 18.

Pinwill’s comeback to senior football coincided with the return clash with Williamstown in mid August. Unsurprisingly he was instrumental in the Boroughs nail biting five point win, an afternoon best remembered for the ABC pulling its live coverage of the epic struggle minutes prior to its conclusion due to network commitments to screen an Austrian travel documentary. Nice one Auntie! His lion hearted final quarter effort in the Preliminary Final helped push the team across the line in a game much closer than the 22 point margin would suggest. He was at it again eight days later, a best on ground performance on Grand Final day winning him the Norm Goss medal. Redemption may have taken 55 weeks, but how sweet it was. Congratulations Toby, you were sensational.

What do you do for an encore?

I’d be surprised, and a little disappointed, if a few members of the PMFC Class of 2011 didn’t have their names called during the upcoming AFL draft(s). As mentioned earlier Shane Valenti, Malcolm Lynch & Sam Dwyer must be rated good chances to find themselves on an AFL list within the next few months. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nathan Batsanis, Patrick Rose or Chris Cain appeared on a few clubs radar as well. Defender Hugh Sandilands had a super season and was invited to a state screening. Hopefully Callum Sinclair’s terrific 2010 will have remained in the memories of recruiters around the nation.

The Grand Final was Ryan McMahon’s 206th game in Red & Blue. Sadly it appears it will be his last. I wrote a piece on McMahon for this website prior to his 200th game https://footyalmanac.com.au/?p=26132  Thanks for the past 12 seasons “Shooter”. John Baird and Corey McGrath may decide to pull the pin after securing the elusive flag. Their superb contributions are even more meritorious when you consider McGrath had retired after the semi final loss 12 months ago, and Baird missed all of the 2010 season after rupturing an Achilles tendon during the 2009 finals series. Both appear to have something left in the tank, hope to see you both in 2012 fellas.

It’s inevitable that the 2012 Port Melbourne Football Club will be different to this year’s model. Injuries to Adam Bentick, Adrian Bonaddio, Callum Sinclair and Myles Pitt denied them a chance to forge places in the grand final side. Hopefully they will be afforded the opportunity this time next year. The Borough prides itself on an ability to attract quality players to the club. Any prospective recruit would have to be impressed with the clubs achievement this year. The alignment with Oakleigh Chargers has been a fruitful one with over 100 players graduating from the Under 18 TAC Cup team to a spot on Port Melbourne’s senior list over the previous 13 years. Long may the agreement continue.

When the victorious 23 man squad who represented the club on Grand Final day returned to North Port Oval following the game, master of ceremonies Gary Brice stated the achievements of this years playing group was the greatest of any previous team in the club’s storied 137 year history. In a feeble attempt to compare champion teams from different era’s I revisited the 1981 Grand Final in recent days. I’m still undecided who would prevail should the ‘81 team clash with the current champions. Anyway, it’s hypothetical, and an exercise best left to those with greater credentials than me to decide. Brice’s statement is quite a compliment when you consider The Barrels achievements at North Port Oval include leading the team to a hat trick of titles at the start of the 1980’s, as well as being named the coach of the Boroughs “Team of the Century” in August 2003.

So, the wait is over and the Borough are back were they belong. A highlight of the premiership win was seeing Jake Dermott in only his fifth game of senior VFL football join his father Greg, a 211 game champion of the club, as a premiership player. My only regret is that my long deceased father, a proud Port Melbourne man, didn’t get the opportunity to witness the fine achievements of this magnificent football club over the past 6 months. He’d have been quite chuffed.

Hope you enjoyed it from your vantage point Tom, some ride wasn’t it?

 

Comments

  1. Martin Reeves says

    Mic, good read. A perfect season, but a hard-earned one too.

    How great was Gary Ayres’ influence over the season?

  2. Many thanks Martin.

    Gary Ayres has been terrific during his 4 year stint at the club, never having failed to finish the home and away season outside the “double chance” positions.

    There’s a fair bit of speculation as to were he’ll be in season 2012. He’s never made secret the fact he’d like to get back intoi the AFL. A story in the little paper the other day suggested he was being considered for a foootball managers job with the Saints.

    I’d love to see him stay at North Port. 2012 will throw up a number of challenges, one being how do you follow the perfect season. I mentioned recruiting being a factor in the teams success, I think having a high profile person such as Ayres has probably made it easier to attract quality recruits. Congratulations to the President & GM for their efforts in this area as well.

    MCR

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