VFL-AFL legend Gary Ayres names his greatest ever Port Melbourne team
Gary Ayres coached some VFL icons at Port Melbourne over his 14-year tenure at the top and now he’s tried to fit them into one side. See who made it.
Steve Brewer: Brewer’s ball use and desire to improve were weapons Ayres always cherished. “Steve Brewer was one of the most prepared individuals I ever had the pleasure of coaching… he was always searching for ways to get better in his game,” he said.
Jarrod Dalton: Ayres loved Dalton’s competitive spirit, looking back on how the champion full back sent feedback and how Ayres himself had to deliver some advice of his own. “There were certainly times he would let the boys up the field know if there wasn’t enough pressure on the ball coming in,” he said. “He needed some coach talk at times but once you put it on him, he would respond,” he added.
Brody Mihocek: Before he was kicking goals for Collingwood, Mihocek was turning heads at the Borough. He won the best and fairest in 2016 before being drafted after Port Melbourne’s flag in 2017. “Brody’s courage in the air to intercept mark, he would fly from anywhere – every time he came to me it was about how he could expand his game because he had ambitions to get drafted,” Ayres said.
Cory McGrath: Ayres fondly remembers McGrath’s short-lived retirement. “He retired at the end of 2010 and I said: ‘did you want to be on my match committee’, he came back and said ‘you’re going to be disappointed because I am not coaching, I want to come back and play’… it was the smartest decision Cory ever made because he became a premiership player in an undefeated year,” he said.
Sam Pleming: Pleming stood as a mountainous figure at centre half-back for a long time, making life hard for forwards before then making them accountable on turnover. “Sam was one of the best readers of the play that I ever coached, he had this ability to roll off his opponent, intercept mark and then use the footy,” Ayres said.
Hugh Sandilands: The left-footer joined Port Melbourne from Box Hill and became an important cog in the Borough machine. “He was my number one swingman, I think 2011 was his breakout season, what we loved about him was he wore his red and blue heart on his sleeve, he was a barometer,” he said.
Sam Dwyer: Ayres was full of praise for his smooth-moving wingman, particularly after his 39-game, 22-goal career with Collingwood. “He was one of the toughest little fellas I have had the pleasure of coaching, he understood how I wanted him to play and he went to the next level, but it says a lot about him that once he left Collingwood, he came straight back to Port Melbourne,” he said.
Toby Pinwill (co-captain): Ayres appreciated Pinwill’s toughness and composure while also feeling as though he complemented the outside runners well. “He rose to the leadership role as captain after John Baird left and it was just a natural thing for Toby to become a leader,” he said.
Michael Dillon: Ayres always demanded the best out of Dillon and was never left disappointed. “Mick was so durable, I dare say he missed one or two games the whole time he was there, I rode him pretty hard because I felt that was the best thing for him, I gave him roles throughout the course of games and I knew what I would get from Mick,” he said.
Ryan McMahon: Ayres summarised McMahon briefly: “Tough,” he said. “We were behind Northern Bullants at three-quarter time of that preliminary final and Ryan was visibly upset, he said to me ‘oh gee Ayrsey, we have to get over this one, I can’t handle being beaten in a prelim’, so I said ‘it mightn’t be your match but it could be your moment’, the first tackle laid that led to the first goal was Shooter McMahon,” he recalled.
Jordan Lisle: Lisle came to Port Melbourne and became an immediate target for the side. He then went on to become a superb leader of the club, steering the club through a unique period. “The thing that stood out for me was Jordy’s ability to read and understand the game, it was outstanding… I love what he did for Port Melbourne,” Ayres said.
Chris Cain: Amidst the praise for his two-time premiership star, Ayres recalls Cain finding the most peculiar way to make his finals campaign more difficult. “We were doing some warm up running on the eve of the 2011 finals series and somehow his thumb got caught in his shorts and he broke his thumb, so he played the finals series with a broken thumb,” he said.
Robin Nahas: The eventual AFL-Tiger and Kangaroo begun at Port Melbourne under Ayres. “I said (to him) he needed to be a pressure small forward to be drafted, he took that on and I think he kicked over 50 goals and ended up getting drafted,” he said.
Dean Galea: Galea knew were the posts were, booting 253 goals in just 74 games with the Borough. “I loved the fact that people were tricked by Dean’s speed off the mark and how he would turn that into a chase and tackle… he has gone on to kick a stack of goals in the Essendon District league,” he said.
Patrick Rose: Rose took out the Jim ‘Frosty’ Miller Medal in his first season at the Borough with 67 majors. “You often sit back and say ‘how are we going to find goals’ but we scored very heavily and Patty was an X-factor, you can never forget how he was able to stand up in that grand final against Williamstown,” Ayres said.
Wayde Skipper: Ayres cherished Skipper’s ability to not only give his midfielders first use but then compete at ground level. “He just had a wonderful footy IQ, his left foot kick for his size, was pretty good too,” he said.
John Baird (co-captain): Baird was a phenomenal leader for the Borough through words and actions. He begun as a pillar at centre half back before developing into a no-fuss onballer. “He was one of the great leaders of Port Melbourne, his ability to bring others into the game, he was 6’4, he was able to be very strong around the contest and distribute the ball with his wonderful vision, he led with a real purpose,” he said.
Shane Valenti: Ayres wasn’t short of praise for Valenti. “Shane was unlucky to not have played more AFL but he’s a two-time JJ Liston Trophy winner, won one of them in a premiership year, again he had this wonderful ability to bring others into the game… he was just a terrific midfielder,” Ayres said. “He reminded me of Greg Williams, he was a similar player, wasn’t fast but was a great distributor, he never wasted a disposal,” he added.
Tom O’Sullivan: ‘TOS’ joined the Borough after being a dominant performer in local footy and Ayres felt there were question marks on how he would adjust. “Coming out of the Ammos, there was no doubt about his ball-winning ability but the challenge was could he do it at a higher grade, he took a little bit of time to settle into the tempo but once he got it he was consistent and outstanding,” he said.
Nathan Batsanis: Ayres appreciated Batsanis’ reliability on the outside as he complimented the gritty on ballers. “He complimented the guys who were the in-and-under types with his explosiveness and damaging kick, he allowed me to mix and match in my midfield,” he said.
Tristan Francis: Ayres has a unique story to tell about Francis’ grand final preparation.“In the grand final in 2011 he had an ordinary ankle, he got an injection in it to see if he could train, he was lame, but the doctor ended up discovering what he gave him was actually off, so he came back and he was able to get through, he was an important cog in our midfield by sacrificing what he was able to do for the role within the team,” he said.
Malcolm Lynch: The clean left-footer was a break glass in case of emergency for Ayres as he would capitalise on a fatigued opposition. “He was clever with really good speed, we would quite often, because we had guys that would crash and bash in the midfield, he was thrown into the midfield in last quarters because of his skill, his evasiveness and his smarts,” he said.
Eli Templeton: Over Ayres’ time at the top, he watched Templeton develop from an accumulator to an elite game-changer. “He became a damaging midfielder who could kick goals as well, his capacity to run and his durability was unbelievable, really,” he said.
Lucas Cook: Cook was a dependable tall who Ayres could trust with ball in hand. “He was very consistent, could read the ball to intercept mark and would always make good decisions with ball in hand for a big boy,” he said.