Ireland turning heads for Lyrebirds

Patrick Ireland reaches for a contested mark. 409011 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Gun Buln Buln teenager Patrick Ireland has continued his sizzling start to the season as the Lyrebirds proved far too strong for Catani on Saturday in the Ellinbank District Football League.

Ireland kicked five goals in the reigning premiers’ 16.16 112 to 6.4 40 victory.

It lifts his season tally to 41 goals at an average of a tick under six per game.

Ireland has at least five in every game he has played except a three-goal haul against Longwarry, starting the season with a statement six-goal outing against top-three side Neerim South.

Buln Buln’s round four victory over Yarragon’s was his best on the scoreboard, contributing nine goals.

“He’s got such a nice long reach on him and his hands are so safe so often times in those packs he’s coming down with them and he never loses the one on ones,” said coach Bob McCallum.

“Our forward line wasn’t dysfunctional but he has added another layer.”

Ireland’s strong start to the season is made more impressive when considering he has entered a forward line which last season had three of the top 12 goal kickers in the competition: Hayden Baker, Reece Campbell and McCallum.

A Gippsland Power graduate and Warragul local in 2023, he played predominantly off halfback at Coates Talent League level and showed he was a good option on the wing on Saturday.

“We weren’t exactly looking for a forward when Paddy came along given how healthy our forward structure was last year with our small targets – we’d get the ball in nice and quickly and allow them to do their work,” the coach said.

“It didn’t have to be well structured, we just had to get it in to one on ones.

“Now Paddy gives us that good target so we have more than one option to go to, it’s just about our players choosing the right option.”

Forward entries have been a focus for the Lyrebirds, who have capitalised on a soft month of footy by winning by an average of 74 points across the last five games.

“We’ve got lots of guys up forward who can kick big bags so we don’t want to be Paddy-centric and although he’s a great option to go to, we have some smaller options to go to,” McCallum said.

“If Paddy’s been taken out then we have others to go to.

“Teams are tending to flood their backline and put more effort into limit our scoring rather than scoring themselves.”

The coach also highlighted Campbell, who returned to the side with three goals on Saturday, the smart and versatile Sam Batson, and the speedy Riley Rundell.

With a test against Lang Lang coming in round 10 and Neerim South a fortnight later, there will be a strong focus on executing plans and showing no mercy to enable them to produce four quarters against their biggest challengers.

Meanwhile, Lang Lang got the jump on Neerim South which was decisive in a low-scoring affair, winning 10.6 66 to 6.6 42.

It continues their unbeaten start to the season and opens up a gap between the undefeated top two and the rest of the competition, which have all tasted defeat at least twice.

Jason Wells and Fintan Fox kicked eight and six respectively in a big day out for Longwarry against Yarragon, the final score reading 23.11 149 to 6.9 45.

Ellinbank overcame a slow start to get the better of Nilma Darnum, winning 17.10 112 to 11.12 78, while Trafalgar was too strong for Longwarry in the other fixture.

LADDER: Buln Buln 28, Lang Lang 28, Neerim South 24, Ellinbank 24, Longwarry 16, Nilma Darnum 12, Trafalgar 12, Poowong 8, Yarragon 8, Catani 0, Nyora 0.

FIXTURE: Lang Lang v Ellinbank, Neerim South v Poowong, Buln Buln v Nilma Darnum, Yarragon v Catani, Trafalgar v Longwarry