From Port Phillip Leader
Reported by Paul Amy
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GARY Ayres was disappointed. Of course he was.
In captain John Baird's 150th match, his Port Melbourne team had given all it had in an exhilarating match against Geelong and dropped six points short.
Baird was disconsolate after the game, taking a position on the floor and gazing across the changerooms.
The defeat left Port needing to defeat Coburg this week to contest its seventh consecutive finals series.
But, convinced it was his side's best performance this season, Ayres was drawing possibilities from the result, not dwelling on the must-win predicament ahead.
He said Port had stretched hot premiership favourite Geelong to almost breaking point and with a little luck might have ended a streak of wins that now stands at 10.
"An unbelievable game between two quality outfits,'' Ayres said.
"I'm so terribly proud of our boys. Character, effort, discipline. The only thing we didn't do was win the game. In the end Geelong were a bit better in the crunch moments.
"We've now given ourselves a benchmark for next week. If we can apply ourselves like that we can definitely win the game.''
Despite a strong wind pushing to the Williamstown Rd end of the ground, the teams put on one of the best games of the season. Indeed, ABC TV commentator and Coburg legend Phil Cleary said it was among the best he'd seen at North Port Oval. "Phenomenal,'' he said. Cats coach Matthew Knights called it "captivating''.
The biggest lead was 13 points, to Port early in the third quarter.
In a furious 12-goal second term the Borough kicked three consecutive goals but the Cats replied with the next three. When hard questions were asked, both teams found answers in a contest in which the pace and pressure were unrelenting. Port's tackling was never less than fierce. Ayres called it "manic''.
The last term, when Port had the wind, was goal for goal. Dom Gleeson for Geelong, Heath O'Farrell for Port. Ryan Bathie for Geelong, Josh Scipione for Port (after Danny Hughes marked spectacularly and was unable to take his kick). Josh Cowan for Geelong, Sam O'Sullivan for Port.
Then the pattern changed. Borough colt Caleb Vearing's long shot put the home team five points in front at the 25-minute mark.
But one minute later Bathie snapped truly for the Cats, giving them a one-point lead. It became seven when veteran Paul Chapman ran in to an open goal.
Port had a poster from Ryan Gale, but the ball was in Geelong's forward line when the siren went. Both sides walked off to warm applause. Port spectators were less charitable to the umpires, adamant their team didn't get the rub of the green.
The Borough went in to the match without spearhead Dean Galea and ace midfielders Shane Valenti and Toby Pinwill.
But they drew a contribution from most players, as Ayres indicated when discussing his best.
Without Galea, Adrian Bonaddio became the focus of the forward line and he showed pack-busting strength, carrying the ball forward as Cats clung to his jumper. At one stage the big fellow laid a tackle at half back. "He turned back the clock a long, long time,'' Ayres said. "He has a heart as big as the Norm Goss grandstand.''
Seasoned hands Chris Cain, Baird, Sam Pleming, Mick Dillon (who was playing his 100th game for Port) and Wayde Skipper put up the example, as they invariably do, and youngsters like Tom O'Sullivan, Sam O'Sullivan and Josh Purcell sought to follow.
Knights declared Port to be in "not in bad shape'' and a "very dangerous footy team''.
It will need to be against Coburg on Saturday. Its season depends on it.
Port Melbourne 2.3 9.6 10.9 14.12 (96) lt Geelong Cats 3.4 8.5 10.7 15.12 (102)
Port Melbourne goals: Hughes 2 O'Sullivan 2 Scipione 2 Bonaddio 2 O'Farrell Cain O'Sullivan Rowe Wooffindin Vearing. Best: Cain Baird Bonaddio Pleming O'Farrell Johnston
Geelong goals: Bathie 4 Gleeson 3 West 2 Corrigan 2 Cowan 2 Chapman Thurlow. Best: Cowan Hunt Horlin-Smith Corrigan West Stringer