VFL – Port Melbourne v Northern Blues: The Ciarans at the Borough


Lisa left work yesterday. She’s been there three and a half years, like me. We joined within a week of each other. She’s popular with everyone in the office. A little smart spark of life who makes you laugh and gets shit done. I don’t miss many people when they leave, but I’ll miss Lisa. In time-honoured tradition, we took her out and we all got drunk.


My hangover is not playing games, but I think I’m going to be ok. I’ve guzzled a couple of litres of water already, and when I look at my eyes in the mirror I know I’m in there. That’s a start. I shower, and the fragrance of the soap and shampoo is helping too. I can do this. I cook some eggs, and make a pot of tea. Baby steps. Jeans on, bring a jumper just in case. Into the city, and onto the 109 to Port Melbourne.


I’ve never been to North Port Oval before, but as soon as I pay the $10 admission and walk in, I’m delighted by it. There’s a verge all around including some parts in the tempting shade of trees. To my left though, is a great big old grandstand on the Southern wing. It faces the city skyline of Melbourne, which completes a beautiful picturesque setting to watch a game. I’m quite proud of myself that I didn’t succumb to the hangover and just flop on the couch with Fox Footy. This is fantastic.


It’s pretty much impossible not to like Port Melbourne. One of the only VFL clubs not affiliated with an AFL club. They have held fast and strong, an old-school suburban community-rooted club. They hail from a part of the city I don’t know very well. A pocket of inner-city suburban Melbourne which, like Collingwood or Fitzroy, is well down the track of gentrification but which retains a strong current of blue-collar folk still easily apparent if you care to acknowledge them. Many of them are here at the game. It’s the first of the new season, and they have an opponent who they’d be expected to beat – the Northern Blues.


I’m a Carlton fan, and Carlton are in a hard but hopeful place as a club. I came late, 2005. Missed all the fun. Missed the scandal too. Arrived to a tableau of disarray and antipathy. I, honestly, have found it hard at times to find something I like within the club. Djlitsa commented here that he almost gave it away when he saw Geoffrey Edelsten in the Carlton box with Mick Malthouse. That was my low-point too. At that time I was attending more Western Bulldogs games than Carlton ones, due mostly to my circle of friends and tickets going spare. I really envied their pride in their club. I met Essendon fans who had migrated to the Dogs, sick of the ‘saga’ and unprepared to accept the line that the club and every footy person within it was a victim. When I saw Carlton selling the clubs integrity I wondered if I could forgive myself if I joined them, and made a switch. It was tempting, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now though, I genuinely like Carlton. As I sat in the grandstand at North Port Oval, Brendan Bolton walked up the steps and took a seat just in front of me. He’s a big part of why.
As the sides ran out, other Carlton people started to appear from the rooms and sat all around me. Stephen Silvagni sat next to Bolton. These two clearly have a good, tight relationship. They conversed throughout (out of my earshot), laughed with each other, pointed out things on their phones. They were like two best mates. I feel happy that they are guiding the football future of Carlton. I really do. Lots of the younger players on Carlton’s main list for todays game against Essendon then appeared and took seats. I wouldn’t have bothered them but then a fellow Irishman, Ciaran Byrne, sat next to me and I had to say hello. We chatted about home and life in Australia, about the GAA and differences in the two games. He is passionate about Gaelic football, much more than me. I leaned towards soccer despite playing both as a kid. He told me Zach was doing well in Geelong, and he can’t wait to get back playing himself. We talked about Ciaran Sheehan who was onfield at the time. Ciaran Sheehan was a famous and celebrated GAA footballer for a prominent footballing county, Cork, before leaving for Australia relatively late in his career. The younger Ciaran (Byrne) was plucked from a smaller county in geographical and footballing terms (Louth), and at the start of his career. They are both huge talents. I am not being biased when I say that. If luck smiles on them, they could still both have stellar AFL careers. If it deserts them, the way it did Tommy Walsh (a prodigious Gaelic footballer), their adventure might be short-lived too.


Sitting alongside us in the grandstand was Tom Williamson, and Samo Petrevski-Seton. They are both first year players and you could tell Ciaran had taken them under his wing just a little. Samo was interested in everything we were saying, he listened with an intent look on his face and when Ciaran joked if he could understand us when we spoke to eachother, he smiled shyly and said he could. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his goal last week at the MCG. It was hard to believe that this sweet kid was the guy with the swagger and the poise I watched grace the hallowed turf last Sunday. I congratulated Tom Williamson on being named in the firsts, and as I did so, Ciaran patted and grabbed his back roughly, like an excited mate does. Tom is a bottom-ager. He looks so young up close. I watched him last week at Arden St in a practice game, and he glides around the ground. Ciaran reckons he himself could be back in 8 more weeks after his horrific injury last year. Every part of me desperately wishes these kids well.


Anyone interested in the Carlton rebuild will get value from watching the Northern Blues this year. They may not be ready just yet but I love to watch Harry McKay and Zac Fisher. The former a monster forward/ruck who looks an incredible athlete. The latter a little wiry natural who can manoeuvre like an otter around packs and would find it blindfolded in a blizzard. As the game wore on, Port forged ahead with more cohesive team play and began to dominate. However, one Northern Blues player started to rise to the top.


Ciaran Sheehan has smarts and ability of the highest order, and has a body for Australian footy. He played games a couple of years ago at AFL level, and did very well. He is a seasoned footballer, but his attempts to get continuity here in Australia have been hampered badly by injury. Now entering his later 20s, it feels like make or break for him. After his performance yesterday, it’s perhaps not too late. Playing off half-back he was able to hit targets consistently with his searing left foot. Attacking kicks too. He asks for more of himself than chipping it around. He hit the chests of players with heat on them, and opened up play with a risky switch here and there. He also read it well the other way, and intercepted. He looked fit, strong, and capable. I hope he gets another chance in the firsts this year, and I hope he can take it. He has plenty to offer.


Port Melbourne ran out deserving winners as the heaven burst open and rain began to hammer the whole of Melbourne. Above me it hammered the roof of that old grandstand and I felt the warm fuzziness I used to feel on caravan holidays in Ireland when the storms from the Atlantic blasted the walls and I was curled up with my family, safe and warm inside.


Happy that I’d brought a jumper, I walked down the wooden steps as Port added a cherry on top with a goal after the siren. I walked through the wrought-iron turnstiles, and through the rain as it soaked my hair and face, and removed the last remnants of my hangover.


About Joe

Born and raised in County Derry. We had a crackly video of the 1986 International Rules Series in our house, and my brother and I watched it over and over. Saw my first footy match in 2005 when Fraser Gehrig destroyed Carlton at the Telstra Dome. Been hooked since. Celtic fan.


  1. Another great piece, Joe. I’m loving your work. Your description of time and place is wonderful. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Another superb piece Joe. I’m glad you stuck with the Blues. Sounds like you had a great day at the footy. If I was in Melbourne I’d join you for the next Northern Blues game. It’s going to be great watching the young guys grow and develop. SPS. Is someone to be truly excited about.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Joe, back in the early 2000s my Swans were aligned with Port Melbourne and about a dozen Swans players turned out for the Borough each week. I recall seeing a young Tagdh Kennelly playing one of his first games here. It was obvious to all that this lad had footy nous and would go far. I hope both of the Ciarans get a chance to show their skills at the highest level. Very good reports coming through about Colin O’Riordon at the Swans.

  4. John Butler says

    Another great piece Joe.

    A few observations:

    “It’s pretty much impossible not to like Port Melbourne” – many who suffered Port’s not so tender ministrations down the years may differ on that. :)

    Re Carlton circa 2005: ” a tableau of disarray and antipathy”. Yup. Got that one right .Could have added a few more years there. :(

    Re Samo PS and T Williamson – both were absolutely sensational yesterday. Very exciting.

    Re the Ciarans – C Byrne’s injury last year was a real disappointment. He’d settled into a defensive role very impressively in his early games. He’ll be back. C Sheehan also made an impressive start to senior football before injury derailed proceedings. I share your optimism re him as well, age notwithstanding.

    I’ve written many critical things about the club in recent years, but we are really seeing a major cultural shift at Carlton now. It may be relatively belated and modest in the scheme of human existence, but it’s big for Carlton.

    Keep the faith.

  5. Alexander the Great says

    Bad luck Northern Blues – Carlton 2nds – Well done Port. Glad you enjoyed your day at the home of VFA football – the holly and historic North Port Oval. Common Borough!!!

  6. joehuddler says

    Thanks for the comments fellas.

    Keiran, great to hear about O’Riordon. Love seeing the Irish boys go well. It’s a bold, crazy dream that they come over with, but as Will Ferrell says in that movie “They laughed at Louis Armstrong when he said he was gonna walk on the moon”. Haha. If the Ciarans get close to Kennelly’s career i’ll dance a jig of my own.

    John, maybe I should have said its hard not to respect Port Melbourne then? I haven’t had familiarity enough to breed contempt, but sure i’ll persevere ;o)

    I think we’ve been entitled to be critical of the club in recent years. You’d have been a fool to applaud some of the shite we’ve witnessed. A cultural correction was well overdue, even from the point of view of someone relatively newish! Although newish to Aussie footy, I’ve supported other kinds of football teams since I was ten years old. I’ve seen all kinds run out, and cheered them on. I’ve supported teams full of champions, and teams full of ghosts. Now and again though, you get a team that you just….love. They may not be a dominant side, they may not go on to be champions, but you just LOVE to watch them. Teams like that are often characterised by an oddball group of players with disparate traits, a great team spirit, and crucially – soul. I’m excited because I can see a team I could love forming. With a coach I love at the helm. What more could a fan ask for!? Glory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ll take pleasure every time.

  7. Joe,
    Great article.
    It’s nice to hear those little personal things that are never reported in the media.
    Please add this piece to the other one hundred or so Carlton articles that have been collected at blueseum.org
    Look forward to reading your next one.

  8. Paul Young says

    I really enjoyed your article Joe.

    I despised Port Melbourne for a very long time. They were the VFA’s powerhouse, the biggest & most arrogant club in the comp, sort of the VFA equivalent to Collingwood. Unlike Collingwood though, they actually were very good at accumulating premierships. In that way they were similar to that other Australian football team called ‘Port’, in the city of churches and porn shops.

    My first game against Port Melbourne I got grabbed by the back of the neck by a Goss brother and told if I went near the footy again he’d kill me. So Port Melbourne and I didn’t get off on the best foot to begin with….Port use to towel up Brunswick and I’ve got some terrible memories of visits to North Port oval.

    Anyway, times they are a changin’ – and I recently heard that the Borough is struggling to compete as a stand-alone club against the AFL based teams. I believe the players played against the Carlton twos for nothing.

    I’m a big rap for Gary Ayres. So I’m thinking the unthinkable – might get myself a Port Melbourne membership @ $70.

    I might have ‘history’ with the Borough but the thought of them ever not existing in the VFL ((VFA) is something I’d hate more.

  9. Well played, Joe.
    Further evidence that little pockets of meaning can flower in unexpected places.

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