GIPPSLAND Power scored a stunning 43-point victory over the Murray Bushrangers to begin its TAC Cup football season.
The Power won 15.14 (104) to 8.13 (61) on Sunday at Punt Road Oval, home of the Richmond Football Club.
Key Power officials had approached the season with enthusiasm, due to the crop of bottom age players coming into the under 18 team.
A reflection of this enormous potential was the fact that 25 of these young players won a place in the squad this season, which meant the final squad had to be extended to 44 rather than the regular group of 40 to fit them in.
Going into the opening match, coach Leigh Brown was suitably impressed by the youngsters progress through the pre-season program, but had one negative to focus on as they prepared them for their debuts.
A revised program only gave the Power one interclub practice match for this season, which meant the initial team went into the opening game severely underdone in terms of knowing each other's game. However, it only took one term of football for this adjustment to be effectively made and the Power outscored the Bushrangers by 44 points in the final three quarters of the game.
In a wonderful team effort, the 14 bottom agers made stunning contributions to one of the club's best opening matches.
Because Caleb Serong and Sam Flanders had made their TAC Cup debuts in 2017, the team had 12 bottom age first gamers in this match, and were joined by Noah Gown, who played his first game as a top ager.
Neither side could get their game flowing early in the match and the Bushrangers goaled first as the result of a free kick. The Power responded with some excellent ball use which allowed Jake Van Der Pligt to kick the vital reply.
As if inspired, the forwards began applying traditional Power pressure, and Van Der Pligt converted the resultant free kick truly. The Bushies regained the initiative from the resultant centre bounce and by the end of the term led by one point.
Coach Brown had plenty of positives to address in his analysis and it was more a situation of encouraging them to fine-tune rather than make wholesale changes to what they were doing. It didn't take long for him to see that the boys had been focussed on the key parts of his challenges as Serong, Irving Mosquito and Xavier Duursma used some stunning skills to allow Fraser Phillips to kick his first goal.
Once again the boys used the ball skilfully and with vision to give captain Duursma the second goal in the opening minutes of the quarter.
The Bushies replied with a crucial goal, but Flanders and Ryan Sparkes were on the end of some fine skills and wonderful pressure that allowed Harvey Neocleous to join the list of debutant goal kickers. Not to be outdone, the Bushies scored on the rebound after the Power had squandered another chance but they were far from finished.
Some typically clever and strong work in the thick of the action by Flanders gave Josh Smith his chance to open his goal scoring and then Kyle Reid, Boadie Motton and Sparkes to cleverly bring the ball from defence to allow Smith to kick another.
Smith became provider this time as he found Mosquito to use his amazing skills to score another superb goal.
The Bushies made sure the Power didn't claim all the glory and reduced the deficit to 15 points at the long break.
Some Power pressure and poor finishing meant the Bushies squandered vital opportunities to get back in the game and the Josh Wykes and Smith used their considerable strength in packs to give Smith his third. The dangerous Flanders joined the party with a brilliant goal off the pack but, once again, the Bushies hit back to limit the damage on the scoreboard.
As is his habit, Nick Lowden was at his best in the tightest scenarios and he used crucial vision to finish off with a vital goal.
As if they were following a script, the Bushies kicked another goal at the end of a quarter and reduced the Power lead to 20 points and still within reach of an unlikely win.
Early in the final term, some excellent forward pressure gave Austin Hodge the chance to kick an absolute stunning goal from deep in the forward pocket.
Some more stunning forward pressure didn't result in goals but it made it obvious that the Bushies were running out of legs. To add to the amazing contributions made by the youngsters, Mason McGannon took a wonderful contested mark and then kicked his first goal for the club.
Not to be outdone, the Bushies kicked another against the general run of play before some more outstanding ball use by Mosquito and Mason McGannon saw Hodge kick his second for the term. Instead of following the Bushies' previous script, the Power kicked the last major for the term when some fine rebound football allowed Mosquito to kick a stunner on the run.
By the final siren the margin was 49 points but, could have been much larger, if the Power had been accurate in its finishing. Gippsland had dominated all the key statistical factors with more than 100 possessions for the quarter which resulted in 14 scoring shots.
Matt McGannon led by example. Playing mainly in defence, he accumulated nearly 30 possessions but took 16 marks, many contested, and shut down several vital opponents.
Captain Xavier Duursma was at his best in the tight contested issues generating drive with his wonderful work ethic. He finished off a fine game with some excellent link work to reward team mates who gave him options up field.
After a wonderful debut season in 2017, Boadie Motton consistently won crucial possessions in the tightest situations and then had the poise, skill and self-belief to make sure that used each one effectively. He capped off his fine game with his crunching tackles on his opponents.
Moe debutant Brock Smith took on and soundly beat the best Murray forwards and had the skill and confidence to win many possessions. He never wasted one of these hard-won possessions and took 12 telling marks, many of which were contested.
Moe teammate Riley Baldi also belied his inexperience with a fine debut as part of the Power's match-winning on-ball brigade. He won crucial possessions in the thick of the action as well as having the strength and ability to use tackles to apply pressure on opponents all over the ground.
Austin Hodge was another to lead his teammates by example. He was in the thick of the action in the contested issues of stoppages and rarely conceded possessions to any opponent.
The Power will take on rivals the Dandenong Stingrays at Morwell on Friday from 1.30pm.