Unheralded team man reaches 150 AFL games

Alex Neal-Bullen in action for the victorious SA U18 team in 2014. Picture - Peter Argent


Now in his ninth year as a part of the Melbourne Demons program, Alex Neal-Bullen has been a consistent performer across a career with one of the most historic football clubs in existence.

He is part of a strong South Australian contingent at the Dees which starts with senior coach Simon Goodwin, his senior assistant Mark Williams and includes teammates Tom Sparrow, Harrison Petty, Brodie Grundy, Luke Dunstan, Kozzie Pickett, Kade Chandler and Will Verrall, while former club captain Jack Viney played juniors with North Adelaide and school footy at Prince Alfred College.

Neal-Bullen, who started his community football with Mitchell Park and was a member of the successful Glenelg junior program, will reach his 150th AFL game in Round 23 on Sunday when the Demons clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.

Before he was drafted to Melbourne with Pick No. 40 in the 2014 AFL National Draft, Neal-Bullen was a member of the victorious South Australian U18 team, which won the national championship, defeating Victorian Metro in the final game which included Neal-Bullen’s 2021 AFL premiership team mate Christian Petracca, who won the Larke Medal in that series.

Alex Neal-Bullen in action for Melbourne in 2018. Picture – Peter Argent

This second successive South Australian Under 18 National Championships victory of 2014, under the tutelage of Brenton Phillips, flew under the radar with its low-key reputation.

But on reflection, they had a number of players with grit and heart, which are the groundings of an elite long-term high-quality team-orientated player.

These are attributes, along with a strong skill-set, which Neal-Bullen has in spades.

“Despite what the press said I actually thought there was a bit talent in that group,” SANFL Head of Talent and SA Under 18s coach for the two successive titles in 2013 and 2014, Brenton Phillips, said.

“There were a number that showed to me that they could be long-term AFL footballers.

“With Alex, all his touches were quality and he used the ball constructively.

“Another aspect was his defensive pressure, his tackling and forward-line pressure, were strong assets in his game.

“With the ball in hand, he was a one-touch player, clean with use, having good gamesense and awareness – that new buzz word in the game now – footy IQ, he had plenty of that.

“He has already had a significant career at 27, built on a strong work ethic and I suspect there are a few years still ahead of him.

“Alex is also an engaging young man who saw the lighter side of life.”

Neal-Bullen also played nine SANFL league games with the Bays in the 2014 season and played first XVIII football with Sacred Heart College.

Alex Neal-Bullen breaks away for Glenelg at the 2011 SANFL U15 Championships. Picture – Peter Argent

After early injury issues, Neal-Bullen made his AFL debut in the Round 11 clash with St Kilda at Docklands, on June 14, 2015, with fellow South Aussies Bernie Vince, Billy Stretch and Jimmy Toumpas in the side.

He chalked up his 50th AFL match in 2018, a Round 17 victory over the Western Bulldogs at the MCG.

His century of AFL games was achieved late in the premiership season of 2021, in Round 21 playing against West Coast, as he notched up 20 disposals and kicking two goals.

Neal-Bullen was also a part of the Demons’ brilliant Grand Final victory, the only AFL decider ever played in Western Australia, five weeks later.

As expected, he delivered another strong effort in this Grand Final victory, finishing with 24 possessions and a goal.

After the 2020 Covid year, Neal-Bullen played 25 games in ’21, a further 23 matches in ’22 and 21 games so far this season, displaying his durability as he goes through the heart of his career.

He may be the heart and soul of the Melbourne Demons, but he is also another great South Australian football export.

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