The Bullants celebrate victory. PHOTO: Northern Bullants - Facebook

The arms of Jean-Luc Velissaris lie in wait as he backtracks courageously. He doesn’t know what’s coming the other way, nor does he care, for if he clunks this mark he has a chance to seal a gripping Northern Bullants victory – just their second of the season. 

Clunk the mark he does. And convert the set-shot he does. The goal extends the Bullants’ lead to seven points, as the clock ticks over 30 minutes in the fourth quarter. 

It proved to be the final score of the match, with the Northern Bullants’ 12.15 (87) prevailing over Coburg’s 12.8 (80) at Coburg City Oval on Saturday to claim Bell Street bragging rights.

You can expect the match, which is also played in honour of the late Vicki Cleary to raise awareness around men’s violence against women, to become a regular fixture on the VFL calendar, for the last time the side’s met in 2021 they produced a one-point thriller, also going the way of the Bullants. 

The loss was as heartbreaking as they come for Coburg, who remain winless through seven games in 2023, and have lost their last two by single-figure margins. 

The Lions were their own worst enemy at times, shooting themselves in the foot with both a lack of discipline and poor decision-making. 

Coburg’s poor kicking as it exited its defensive 50 proved costly, with numerous turnovers inviting repeat Bullants entries and an abundance of added pressure. The Lions also let their emotions get the better of them at times, conceding a concerning amount of 50-metre penalties. 

Despite those pitfalls, the Lions were competitive from the opening bounce, asserting ascendancy over the contest early and fighting their way to a 3.3 (21) vs 3.0 (18) quarter-time lead. 

The match would continue to see-saw heavily, with nine lead changes over its duration. Both teams had patches of dominance, but refused to take control and break away, with the margin never exceeding 17 points. 

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The Bullants had a nine-point advantage at the half, before Cam Wild’s strong chest mark and goal – for the first of his VFL career – and a string of behinds, extended it to that match-high 17-point lead midway through the third term.

But just as the Bullants threatened to run away with the game – keep in mind Coburg had an average losing margin of 52 points heading into the clash – there was yet another twist. 

The Lions sprung to life, landing a flurry of lusty blows against the run of play to regain the lead at the final change of ends. 

First it was Aaron Clarke, who capitalised on an overlap to sneak out the back for his third goal. 

Then it was Will Bella, standing tall, he held his opponent off with one arm, and dropped the footy onto his boot with the other, snapping accurately over his shoulder from 30 metres out. 

And with his confidence through the roof, the Coburg ruckman could do no wrong. The Burgers won the next clearance and it found the chest of a leading Bella. He wasted no time, taking the game on straight away and faking his way past one, then two defenders, before dishing it off. 

Still lingering outside the 50, the Sherrin found its way back to Bella, who threw a goalbound snap on his boot. And while it missed to the right, it found the waiting arms of Jhye Baddeley-Kelly, who returned the lead to the Lions with his third major. 

Kyle Weightman made it four goals on the trot for Coburg with the first goal of the final term, extending the home side’s advantage to nine points.

The Lions’ faithful could sense their first victory of 2023. The atmosphere was electric. 

But for every step the Burgers took towards that tantalising victory, the Bullants replied instantaneously. 

For all three of Coburg’s fourth quarter goals were met with a Northern goal less than two minutes later. 

Until Velissaris rose to the occasion, sealing the game’s fate. 

It was his second goal of the day – both coming in the game’s final 20 minutes – as he stood up when the match was there to be won, finishing with 26 disposals and eight clearances also. 

Velissaris was only outshone by third-gamer Cam Wild, who was simply remarkable, keeping Coburg’s Flynn Gentile to 17 disposals while racking up 32 of his own, along with a goal, seven clearances, and six tackles. Wild was deservingly judged best-on-ground, and awarded the Harold M Martin Medal for his efforts. 

Among the other standout performers for the Bullants were Matthew King (one goal, 26 disposals) and Tyson Young (three goals, 21 disposals). While some accurate kicking from Brandon Ryan could’ve lead to another impactful outing as the mid-season looms closer, as he finished with 1.3 from 16 disposals. 

For Coburg, Mitch Podhaski (25 disposals), Hugo McGlashan (25 disposals, four tackles), and Braedyn Gillard (23 disposals, six clearances) were all gallant in defeat. 

Coburg will face the daunting task of taking on their namesake, the undefeated Brisbane, in Brisbane next Saturday, as they search for the first win of 2023. 

While Frankston stands in the way of the Northern Bullants’ pursuit of consecutive victories, with the sides doing battle at Preston City Oval on Saturday. 

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