NAB League | Depleted Bushies push Tasmania in tight contest

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Strength to strength: Mooroopna’s Coby James was a standout performer for the Bushies on Saturday. Photo by Aydin Payne

While unable to come away with the four points, Murray Bushrangers coach Mark Brown was brimming with pride on Saturday afternoon as his injury-ravaged team took it right up to the in-form Tasmanian Devils in a gripping NAB League clash.

Missing 10 of their usual starters, the Bushies were in the contest from start to finish at Cragieburn’s Highgate Recreation Reserve, but couldn’t quell the class of the Tassie side, falling 10.8 (68) to 6.9 (45).

The Bushies sported five NAB League debutants, including Goulburn Valley pair Oscar Ryan (Shepparton United) and James Auld (Shepparton Swans), and Brown said the boys showed great heart in challenging one of the competition’s best sides.

“We were really pleased with the performance. To put in such a sustained effort with so many new faces was fantastic and shows the depth we have,” Brown said.

“Going into the game, all we asked them to do was compete for the entire 100 minutes of the match and they did that, so as a coaching staff we are really proud.

“It was probably just a five-minute lapse at the start of the third quarter that cost us.

“But to the boys’ credit they just kept coming at them, and to have a number of breakout performances from our younger guys, as a coaching staff it was a positive day for us.”

Greeted by cold and blustery conditions, the game quickly turned into a scrap, with both sides wasting opportunities in the opening quarter to have the margin at two points in favour of the visitors at the first change.

But with the wind at their back in the second, the Bushies capitalised, dominating around the ball to pile on three quick goals and take a crucial eight-point lead into the sheds.

With belief growing among the undermanned Bushrangers, the inexperience of the home side unfortunately reared its ugly head early in the third, with a 10-minute lapse opening the door for Tasmania to regain control of the contest.

Trailing by three goals heading into the final term, the young Bushies mounted one last charge, cutting the margin back to 10 points with 15 minutes left.

But in the end, class and experience won out, with back-to-back goals in the closing stages clinching a 23-point win for the Devils.

With so much youth taking the field for the Bushrangers, Brown praised the way his debutants adapted to the intensity of NAB League footy.

“Oscar Ryan looked really capable, spending time up forward and down back. He looked good in the one-on-one contests and will only get better,” he said.

“Young James Auld rotated between wing and half-back and had 17 possessions and certainly looked up to the speed of the game and had some good moments.

“Our youngsters competed all day which is all we asked of them and showed they have great futures at this level.”

Along with the first-gamers, the Bushies got some excellent contributions from a few more experienced campaigners, with Mooroopna’s Coby James particularly impressive through the midfield picking up 26 disposals.

“Coby certainly falls into the category of one of our better players. He has had a really impressive bottom-age year and he showed his class again on Saturday,” Brown said.

“We played him down back to begin with to show him something new and he’s embraced it really well.

“But returning to the midfield, he really stood up on Saturday and provided a real spark all day long.”