Ageless Baird shines
From Sunday Age
Reported by Brent Diamond
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PORT Melbourne's veteran skipper John Baird was a game-breaker in Victoria's 108-point thrashing of Tasmania yesterday in yet another sign that his career has turned full circle since his 46 games with North Melbourne.
Coach Gary Ayres said that only two years ago Baird was questioning whether he could still play the game after injuries and an ageing body threatened, but he has played a major role in the Boroughs' bid for back-to-back premierships.
Ayres, who coached the VFL side, believes Baird's improvement had also had a ''flow-on effect'' for the younger Port players.
Yesterday, at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, he led the team with his capacity to mark and run off his opponent, who was almost a decade younger than him.
Two-time Liston Trophy winner Shane Valenti, who did his draft chances no harm yesterday, said that Baird has been an inspirational leader.
''He's playing like a young kid again, he's playing brilliant footy and it's good to be led by someone like that. He's having a brilliant season,'' Valenti said. ''We all knew he could play like that. It was just a matter of him getting over his injuries and getting some pre-season form and he did that this year. He's leading by example.''
Valenti, believed to having been close to being picked up as a mature-age rookie by Essendon last season before the Bombers opted for Frankston midfielder Mark Baguley, said he still has hopes of resurrecting his AFL career, which was cut short by Melbourne.
''It's just an honour to be playing for the state again and I don't think anyone did their chances any harm playing so well today. It's always good to play here on the big stage, but who knows?'' Valenti said.
Port's other swingman Sam Pleming was also outstanding with 18 disposals and 12 marks. Pleming, the Borough's best and fairest in the past two seasons, has become one of the most influential players in the league given his great ability to rebound from defence with precision.
Victoria's dominance yesterday also was a showcase for others on the brink of AFL careers.
North Ballarat wingman Dean Towers was the youngest in the team but his 13 disposals were classy and he impressed with his quick movement across the field. ''We've been pleased with his ability to win the ball and run with it and we've also been pleased with his ability to work hard without the ball,'' North Ballarat coach Gerard FitzGerald said yesterday.
Myles Sewell (26 disposals), Leigh Osborne (25), and Ben Ross (24) were the others to shine on one of the biggest state league stages.
Frankston's Khan Haretuku has not had the chance to play VFL finals or the Foxtel Cup, but yesterday he made sure he was spotted by recruiters with four goals to be the leading goalkicker on the ground.
Borough forward Chris Cain finished with 3.6 but was part of Victoria's avalanche of 11 unanswered goals in the second half, to win 20.17 (137) to 3.11 (29).
In essence, this game was over by half-time as the VFL kicked clear in the second term to lead by six goals.
Tasmania lacked the class of the Victorians all over the ground. Skipper Andy Lee kicked two its three goals for the match.
Midfielder Brady Jones, who had a cricket contract with Tasmania, was its top possession-getter with 19.
Meanwhile, South Australia defeated Western Australia by 14-points at Glenelg yesterday. Adam Grocke was the best for SA, while ex-Magpie Paul Medhurst kicked three goals for WA.
■Geelong forward Daniel Menzel is expected to make a swift return from a knee injury in the VFL against North Ballarat next weekend.
It has been less than nine months since Menzel injured his ACL against Hawthorn in last year's qualifying final.
Hawthorn ruckman Max Bailey is also expected to return from a hand injury and get some game time with the Box Hill Hawks in their round 11 clash against Williamstown.
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson is hoping the big man can return in the seniors after the bye.