Hello old friend

Six weeks in and I’m off to see my first game of VFL football at the North Port Oval for season 2011. Gary Ayres’ Port Melbourne, 4 wins & no losses, are off to the best start for a Borough side since the 1999 model, coached by Darren Crocker, commenced their season 4-0. Port’s efforts are even more impressive considering two of last seasons Preliminary Finalists in Box Hill & the Northern Bullants (Preston) are amongst the scalps they’ve taken in the first month. As usual, the Borough have recruited well with the addition of proven VFL goal kicker Patrick Rose, Wayde Skipper – unlucky to be de-listed by Hawthorn at the end of 2010 (he appeared in 15 of the Hawks final 16 games last season, including an elimination final) & former Carlton player Jake Edwards.  Add to this talented trio the long awaited return to fitness of inspirational Captain John Baird after missing all of last season with an Achilles’ tendon injury and the Port faithful can justifiably believe the long premiership drought, now standing at 29 years, could be about to end.

Frankston, Port Melbourne’s opponent this afternoon, are desperate for a win. Sporting a 0-4 record and a percentage of just over 50, Coach Simon Goosey’s men have been honest, but have nothing to show for their efforts. A narrow 19 point loss to Sandringham in Round 2 is the closest the men from the Kars Street Oval have come to ending a run of losses that has stretched to 20 in total. You have to return to Round 2 of the 2010 season, Sunday April 18 2010 to be precise, for Frankston’s last victory at senior level, a 4 point victory over a Coburg side that included Ben Cousins.

Both of today’s combatants are “stand alone” entities, meaning that rather than having an alignment with an AFL team and gaining unfettered access to that teams listed players who are not engaged in AFL action that weekend, they field teams of their own players. A big ask, but you only need to return to season 2008 for the last time both stand alones made the VFL finals, Port Melbourne going all the way to that years finale. Port Melbourne started their day the best possible way, their reserves team enjoying a 112 point victory over the undermanned Dolphins seconds, final score 26.16-172 to 9.6-60.

Under an overcast sky, the Dolphins burst out of the gates quickly with Ruckman Russ Gabriel’s quick kick forward finding Warwick Miller 40 meters out. Miller drilled the goal, and within 45 seconds of the commencement the visitors had scored the first goal of the game.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Frankston in the opening stanza as the highly fancied hosts ran amok for the following half hour. Dean Galea was tackled around the neck and Port’s response was immediate. Captain Baird, who watched the opening few minutes of action from the bench was introduced to the fray and was in absolutely everything for the next 15 minutes, racking up a slew of possessions and having a direct hand in Dean Galea’s second goal. Chris Cain’s running goal was followed by a nice snap from big man David Fanning that gave the Borough their fourth for the afternoon. The elusive Pat Rose added a pair of six pointers toward the end of the first period, both from strong marks and at quarter time Port Melbourne held an already commanding 6.4-40 to 1.0-6 lead. Hugh Sandilands & Jarrod Dalton had repelled any rare Frankston forward foray, and Adam Bentick and reigning Liston trophy medallist Shane Valenti were providing plenty of drive in the Port engine room. Evergreen Frankston captain Paul Kennedy, ruckmen Gabriel and Rob McCallum and Christian Ongarello, who’d marshalled a defence under siege, were the standout performers for Frankston.

Coach Ayres’ suggested his player’s break the game into 30 minute blocks, asking for a similar effort in the second term to the one they provided in the first. He got it, and the visitors REALLY got it. At the 13th minute of the second quarter the margin had ballooned to 70 points, a fanatical Port team applying the blow torch to its opponent’s soft underbelly. Galea and Skipper added two goals each, all four majors resulting from strong grabs taken within 35 metres of goal. Cain & Rose also added to their first quarter goals. A rushed point at the 18 minute mark of the quarter was the Dolphins first score in almost 50 minutes of play, and ended a run of 19 unanswered scores for the home team (13 goals 6 behinds). Rose registered goals five & six for the afternoon and in doing so stretched the Port lead to an even 15 goals, but right on half time Chris Buchan intercepted a misdirected Sam Pleming pass 25 metres from goal. He duly drove his shot between the big sticks, the siren sounded, and the Frankston goal famine finished.

With a half time margin of 84 points (Pt Melb 15.7-97 F’ton 2.1-13), coach Goosey and his undermanned team had their work cut out. Whilst Kennedy, Gabriel & Matt Clark had “waved the Frankston flag ” in the first half, a supreme effort after the long break would be required to stop a well drilled Port team from racking up a cricket score. Nathan Batsanis, Bentick & Valenti were doing as they pleased in the midfield. Patrick Rose’s 6 first half goals suggested he was a chance to become the first Port Melbourne player since former Collingwood & North Melbourne, now Philadelphia Eagle Saverio Rocca to kick ten or more goals in a game. Rocca’s ten goals coming against reigning premier Sandringham in 2005 when Port was aligned with North Melbourne.

Prior to his appointment as senior coach of Frankston, Simon Goosey had been one of Gary Ayres’ assistant coaches at Port Melbourne. Any inside information he may have garnered during his tenure at North Port Oval would come in handy for the last hour of play. If the final two periods of play mirrored the first two, any recorded footage of the game would require an “R” rating.

Fortunately for the thousand or so supporters who came along to watch this battle a more committed Frankston team did appear after the long interval.  For the first 15 minutes of the third period the Dolphins not only stopped Port from adding to their half time total of 15 goals, but managed to add three to their two first half majors. Luke Clark, who bagged four goals last week against Casey in the ABC match of the day, broke clear of his direct opponent Dalton to mark strongly twice in the first 10 minutes. He converted both of his chances and when Nick Boland’s mark & goal from 45 metres followed shortly after, the Dolphins had scored the last four goals of the match, the margin had been reduced to 68 points, and a little pride had been restored to the men from the Mornington Peninsula. Port would eventually bring up their first major after half time; Galea’s fifth of the day coming from a simple tap in from the goal square. The indefatigable Ryan McMahon, closing in on 200 VFL games, was the Boroughs most effective forward during the third quarter, taking a number of excellent marks within Ports 50 metre arc. Unfortunately the 30 year olds inaccuracy meant “Shooters” return of one goal from three shots in the last 10 minutes of the quarter wasn’t a just reward for his hard work. At three quarter time Port Melbourne held an imposing 82 point lead, 17.11-113 to 5.1-31. Sandilands and Batsanis were busy for the hosts in the third quarter with Luke Clark, Gavin Marusic & Chris Doria leading the way for the Dolphins.

The Frankston huddle was upbeat at the final break, Goosey asking his men for more of what they’d provided during the third term. The Dolphins had gotten their hands on the ball more often in the third quarter equalling Port Melbourne’s 80 possessions for the term, a marked improvement on the first sixty minutes when the Borough had 114 more touches than the Dolphins. Outscoring their opponent for the period pleased the coach immensely, and his charges were asked to finish off the good work in the next half hour by setting themselves the task of not only winning the final quarter, but finishing with a dozen goals on the board.

Frankston’s defence was under siege early in the last term, Mal Lynch finding former Dolphin Dan Keely for his first goal of the afternoon, Chris Cain missing with his shot moments later. Chris Doria continued to get plenty of the ball, and Daniel Uzarevic slotted his teams sixth of the afternoon from a free kick in the scoreboard pocket. It would be the Frankston’s last hurrah for the game. With Lynch, Valenti & Bentick doing as they pleased, Port Melbourne proceeded to add the final six goals of the day. Skipper converted from 40 metres, a nice lead & mark resulted in Rose’s seventh goal, Billy Burstin joined the scoresheet with a goal from a free kick, and Chris Cain’s third goal came with assistance from Rose. A John Baird goal from a snap pushed the margin to 113 points. Fittingly McMahon had the final say, marking 35 metres from goal, and slotting his second goal and Port Melbourne’s twenty fourth. When Henry Knight, Port Melbourne’s long serving time keeper, brought the days play to halt Port Melbourne 24.17-161 had defeated Frankston 6.3-39.

Major Goalkickers for Port Melbourne were Rose (7), Galea (5), Skipper & Cain (3). Luke Clark was the only multiple goal scorer for Frankston with two goals to show for his afternoons work.

Best for Port Melbourne included Bentick, Batsanis, Baird (killer bees) Valenti, Rose & Sandilands. For the defeated Dolph’s Matt Clark, Chris Doria & Gavin Marusic shone brightest.

Can Port Melbourne, now five wins from five starts, win the flag? I believe that for the first time since 2006, their inaugural “stand alone” season, the Borough have the depth to win the premiership. The reserves side that comprehensively took care of Frankston included players such as Corey McGrath, Callum Sinclair, Stephen Brewer & Fabian De Luca, automatic selections in most VFL teams. Key forward Adrian Bonaddio, a mainstay of the Port teams of the past four seasons is recovering from a leg injury and will not be available for selection for some time. Should he return to full match fitness, coach Ayres and his selection committee will have a headache most other teams would kill for.  Next weekends “1v2” clash with traditional rival Williamstown (5-0 after their victory over Sandringham earlier in the day) may shed a little light on which of these old foes can claim the tag of favourites for the flag. Can the Dolphins break their losing streak soon? I sincerely hope so.

Two final points

  • Congratulations to Anthony Stanguts, VFL Communications Officer. You and your team at the VFL should be applauded regarding the facelift you’ve given the VFL Record this season – a massive improvement on last years embarrassing “flyer” that was on offer. Bouquets to all involved.
  • Does anyone know the whereabouts of the Jim Renouf shield? If so, could you please contact either Port Melbourne or Frankston Football clubs.  A shield/trophy struck in honour of Renouf had until recent years been awarded to the winner of matches between these two teams. Renouf, who tragically died in 1979, had represented both the Dolphins and Borough with distinction. He was a member of Port Melbourne’s 1964 & 1966 premiership winning teams.


  1. John Butler says

    Comprehensive Mic.

    It’s about time the Borough broke their drought. It would bring back memories of those classic 70’s & 80’s VFA days.

  2. Mic Rees says

    John – Thanks.

    “It’s Time” – Haven’t I heard that before ?

    Need to break drought soon. I look at some of my fellow travellers at Port, thinking we weren’t even voting age the last time the Borough saluted.


  3. Mic,
    Going to Port v Willy?

  4. Dave Nadel says

    This should really be the subject of a separate posting, but reading your excellent review Mic just makes me look forward to the inevitable day when the AFL Seconds are separated from the “VFL” clubs and a version of the VFA returns.

    The fact that Collingwood and Geelong are the two top AFL clubs while their VFL clubs are not travelling all that well underlines the fact Collingwood and Geelong seconds are not in the VFL competition for the same reasons as the Borough or the Dolphins and there should be two separate competitions. I have no doubt that this will happen as the clubs that can afford to run traditional Reserves teams (Essendon, Carlton, Hawthorn etc) seek to follow the Cats and the Pies.

    This of course raises two questions. What happens to Victorian AFL clubs who cannot afford to run a full Reserves team (North, Bulldogs)? What happens to VFA clubs who cannot afford to run a professional team without assistance of an AFL club/? (Maybe all of the current linked clubs apart from Williamstown and North Ballarat). I suspect that the final answer to that is that the VFA will have to return as semi-Professional competition at a similar level as the top suburban leagues.

  5. Mic Rees says

    Mr Crio – Yeah, and they should get a pretty decent sized crowd.

    Port looking for their first win against the Gulls since the epic 2008 PF.

    “Safe” money is on a Willy v Preston GF at this moment……..I think


  6. Martin Reeves says

    Mic – good read as always.

    What do you think would become of the VFA if the AFL clubs went it alone again? The WAFL works well and has managed to retain it’s identity with many in Perth taking an interest still. The league seems to coexist with the AFL sides.

    It’s interesting to note that WCE and Freo want stand alone teams in the WAFL. For me, the WAFL would lose some of its appeal if this was to occur.

  7. Mic Rees says

    Dave / Martin – Many thanks.

    Dave – Whilst I’m sure having their own team in the VFL has assisted the Pies & Cats with player development, I ‘ve never got the impression (when Port have played either team) that ithe score didn’t matter. You are correct when you suggest a few of the traditional VFA clubs would struggle to field stand alone sides. They could possibly disappear altogether. Would local leagues such as Eastern, NFL, WRFL or Southern except applications by former VFL clubs to join/re-join ?

    Martin – Could you see the current nine WAFL clubs stopping WC or Feo from joining the comp ? I can’t, yeah would be a bit of a shame.

  8. Mic,
    You must have Port as flag favs after today’s demolition? Willy were so disappointing – as was the paltry crowd. Always enjoy a trip to the Borough!

  9. Mic Rees says

    Crio – Port were terrific today, the Gulls not so.I got the impression a number of the Williamstown boys just didn’t want to be there. Conditions weren’t the greatest and that had an effect on the crowd size.

    Favouites ? Still too early, I think there are only four teams that can win the flag, the two combatants you, and I, saw today, Preston & Bendigo.

    Another big test for PM next weekend at Windy Hill. I believe the last time the Borough played at Essendon (2002) a bloke by the name of Lockett kicked four goals and we still managed to lose. Loss of Valenti for what could be a few weeks won’t help the cause.


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