AFTER playing some ordinary football in recent weeks, Gippsland Power returned to its most impressive form to soundly defeat the third-placed Murray Bushrangers in TAC Cup football on Sunday.
In terrible conditions at Morwell, the Power won 9.16 (70) to 3.7 (25).
What made the performance even more stunning was the fact that it was achieved without four of the Power’s best players, rested after participating in the under 18 national championships. All-Australian defender Kyle Reid, captain Xavier Duursma, goal sneak Sam Flanders and Matt McGannon were among the spectators who enjoyed seeing the team come back to their best form for the season.
Caleb Serong returned from the championships and made it clear why he had been selected for the big V as a bottom-ager. Also returning was youngster, Fraser Phillips, while Harold Hood made his TAC Cup debut after shaking off a series of niggling injuries over the past year and a half.
A strong wind from the south-east, continuous rain and freezing cold atmosphere ensured both sides were made to work incredibly hard to play any sort of cohesive football. The Power adapted best as it went into attack with the advantage of the gusting wind.
Early in the first term, the Power went to the wrong side of the ground and struggled to hit the scoreboard despite dominating much of the play.
It took a long kick by Serong on the correct side of the ground to break the deadlock and then Irving Mosquito spun onto his left side to kick another long goal.
The Bushranger applied pressure, but couldn’t contain the intensity of the Power’s in response to the challenges that they were facing.
Some strong work by Boadie Motton set-up Mosquito for his second goal, and the Power’s typically intense forward pressure resulted in another to Austin Hodge.
The scoreboard indicated a lead of 27 points for the Power, but it didn’t reflect the degree to which the home team had dominated much of the play.
Scrutiny of the key statistics made it clear just how hard the boys had worked to get back to the best of their 2018 form. Their 30-plus tackles were a good sign but, the comparative inside 50 counts were the vital indication of the strength and quality of their efforts.
They had gone into attack 22 times compared to the Bushrangers’ three forward forays, and coach Leigh Brown would have been so pleased they had learned the lesson of the loss to the Pioneers two weeks earlier.
Early in the second term, it was a case of more of the same as the Power dominated contests where it mattered most, in the midfield. The Power was in attack for much of the term but, unlike the first quarter, it couldn’t transfer this dominance to where it mattered, the scoreboard.
The Power wasted 11 forward thrusts without a goal until second gamer Marcus Toussaint marked and goaled half-way through the term.
More hard-won chances were wasted but, by the end of the quarter, the Power led by 38 points. More importantly, the Power had kept Murray goal-less and had done so by sticking rigidly to its game plan.
Unlike recent games, the Power had applied intense pressure all over the field, which meant the Bushrangers rarely had easy possessions no matter how hard they worked. The stats backed this up again as it had 30 more forward 50 entries, largely due to its 60-plus tackles.
Just when it seemed that the boys had got the message, the Bushrangers reminded them that they could be competitive if allowed, and kicked the first goal of the second half. This was answered by a clever snap off the pack by Serong, but once again the goal scoring stopped despite the ball being in their attacking area for much of the time.
A goal from a free kick and 50 metre penalty for Bailey Beck got the Power back on track but, once again, it was missing relatively gettable goals. More of the team’s intense forward pressure allowed Noah Gown to kick a vital goal and they went to the final break 50 points up.
It was a case of “Deja-vu” in terms of tackles and comparative forward 50 entries, but one minor negative had emerged. For the second and third quarters, the Power had kicked four goals and 11 points from 34 forward entries. Closer analysis eased his worries as the Bushies were applying strong pressure and the boys were having to deal with the impact of strong, gusting winds.
The endeavour of the Bushies was obvious as they had the advantage of the wind in the early part of the final term. The Power defence was continuing to with stand the intense pressure but was being assisted by the on-ballers.
The Power upped the ante in terms of tackles and made the Bushies work incredibly hard to get any passages of positive play started. It wasn’t until the 16-minute mark of the term they were able to shake off the Power’s pressure and they got another five minutes later.
In the dying seconds of the game, Harvey Neocleous kicked the Power’s only goal for the quarter but they still ran out winners by 45 points.
Brown and his assistants were justifiably overjoyed with the win and especially the way in which the side was able to apply pressure in the right places for the entire game. More than 120 tackles and twice the number of forward 50 entries indicated the depth of their application to the vital elements of the game plan but, the quality of the opposition really reflected just how well they had responded to the coach’s challenges.
AFL Academy member Caleb Serong returned from state and school football commitments and quickly made his presence felt. He controlled the all-important midfield area picking up 20-plus mostly contested possessions.
Young key forward Josh Smith was moved to an on ball role and he too had a vital impact on the game from the opening bounce. Not only did he win the majority of the ruck contests but also made an impact at ground level in the tightest contests. His strength and team focus enabled him to generate many positive passages of play.
In his debut at TAC Cup level, Harrold Hood showed how quickly he could adjust to such a challenge by playing a consistently effective role in the midfield unit. His ability to read the play and be in the right place at the right time was exceptional. In the process he amassed twenty plus possessions and more importantly applied 12 tackles.
Noah Gown was in defence early and, due to the way in which the side limited the Bushies forward play had little to do. However, when moved up field, he was a vital contributor in aerial contests as well as being equally as effective in hard ball situations.
Once again young defender Tye Hourigan’s ability to win every one-on-one contest with his disciplined application of the team structure was reflected by five tackles and 10 spoils. He helped to set up many forward forays with his effective use of the ball.
Fellow defender Zac Hurley also had a vital role to play against dangerous opponents and was another to make the right decision on each occasion. His self-discipline and team orientation meant he backed his judgement unerringly and always ensured that each hard-won possession was effectively used.
Midfielder Boadie Motton continued to make a vital contribution with his selfless style of play where his ability to win the ball in the tightest situations sets up many positive passages of play. With so many others making such a contribution he was able to get more time and room to win and effectively use the ball.
Jake van der Pligt is another of the bottom agers who has stepped up to the standard of TAC Cup with amazing levels of intensity. He too has the discipline to take on and soundly defeat opponents and is often the last to get up from the tightest on-ball contests. His 10-plus tackles were an accurate indication of the importance of his contribution.
The Power has another week off ahead of its match against the Western Jets on July 22, also at Morwell.