GIPPSLAND Power began the TAC Cup finals with a comprehensive win over the Geelong Falcons in ideal conditions at Princes Park in Melbourne.
The Power won 13.10 (83) to 7.11 (53) to set-up a preliminary final against the Oakleigh Charges this Saturday at Princes Park.
Power welcomed back key players Austin Hodge and Boadie Motton from the VFL and illness respectively. Despite the Falcons being a relatively unknown opponent, the Power went in as deserved favourite for the match.
The simplicity and intense pressure coach Leigh Brown wanted were evident early as some clever ball use resulted in Josh Smith kicking a long goal in the opening minutes of the term. Nick Lowden had used his strength and determination well to create a situation where Irving Mosquitos pace a skill resulted in a goal off the ground.
Ruckman Rylan Henkel then kicked an inspiring running goal and seemingly, the Falcons were out of their depth against a rampant Power side.
It was Leo Connolly’s turn to inject himself into the match as he and Noah Gown combined twice with vision and skill to put the Power up by four goals with 10 minutes to go in the term.
The Power began to get away from its focus with too many short options and an unnecessary turnover allowed the Falcons to kick their first for the match. Similar ineffective play gave the Falcons another and they were now within reach of the Power against the run of general play.
Some more direct and long ball use meant that they went forward quickly and Smith was in good position to take a strong contested mark. His goal gave the Power a 16-point lead at the first break and there were plenty of good things for the coaches to address as they worked with their players.
The key factors were the five goals from only eight inside 50 entries and the 30-plus tackles. Despite the Falcons winning a fair share of possessions, they were unable to convert many to goals due to the intense pressure being applied by the Power midfield and defence.
Early in the second term, some skill and vision by Sam Flanders and Riley Baldi set up Xavier Duursma to kick a vital goal. Instead of capitalising on this excellent ball use, the Power gifted the Falcons with another goal after some poor decision making.
Further errors meant that they were within two goals despite the dominance of the Power in the tight contests. It went quick and long into attack and Harvey Neocleous kicked truly as the result of a free kick.
It appeared as if the boys were back to the team plan and Harrison Pepper used stunning second and third pressure acts to give himself a chance for a stunning goal.
Although he missed the coaches were delighted with his adherence to the pre-game requirement of intense pressure. Duursma then turned provider to allow Connolly to kick a long bomb from the 50m line and the Power went to the long break 20 points up.
The coaches seemingly only had some “fine-tuning” to do during the break as for the majority of the two quarters, the boys had followed the key elements of the game plan to perfection.
Minor lapses involving imprecise and short use of the ball were an issue but it appeared that the Power had the answers when it mattered most. Young onballer Mitch Benveltzen suffered a back spasm injury and was out of the game but, even more importantly, several key players had had little or no influence on the game.
In the opening minutes of the third term neither side could kick goals they both struggled to use the ball well enough to shake off the opposition. The Falcons managed to get it right and they kicked two goals after the Power had wasted many inside 50 entries.
At the end of a stunningly lack-lustre quarter, the Power hadn’t kicked a goal and were only eight points up after playing some of the most ineffective football for the season. No goals from 10 inside 50s and only 20 tackles were the key statistical factors backing up this situation and the coaches had plenty to “discuss” with their groups.
If coach Brown was under control at the long break, he moved into overdrive at three-quarter-time and reinforced his pre-match focus on simplicity, predictability and intense pressure. He moved Gown into the ruck, put Kyle Reid up forward and asked the “passengers” for extra efforts.
It was a real challenge for the Power considering the knockout nature of the game and some wonderful intensity and purpose by Gown, Mosquito and Reid resulted in Duursma kicking the vital opening goal for the term.
Some more intensity in the contests all over the ground put the ball into attack and Caleb Serong was on hand to kick a crucial goal on the run.
Not long later, Serong set up Bailey Beck for a well-deserved goal from outside the 50m line and it appeared as if the sting had gone out of the Falcons. The intensity of the Power was back to their best and players all over the ground were winning contested possessions and then using them with greater purpose.
Henkel had been put up forward as well and he goaled as the result of a hard-won free kick. The Falcons kicked their only goal late in the term after an incredibly soft 50m penalty but Power regained the initiative with even more intensity in contested situations.
Serong and Reid used strength, skill and vision to win the ball and allow Gown to kick a fine goal in the dying minutes of the term. By the final siren, the Power had extended its lead to 35 points but, far more critically had responded wonderfully to the challenges “subtly issued” to them at the last break.
After a consistent contribution all season, it was Bailey Beck who continued to set a fine example for teammates from the opening bounce as he ensured that he strictly followed every element of the coach’s game plan. He was at his best in tight contests as well as being a consistent avenue into attack as he found space as well beating opponents one-on-one. His 20-plus possessions and 11 tackles reflect the importance of his influence.
Key forward Noah Gown has had a stunning second half to his season and was excellent early with his ability to take strong contested marks and apply intense pressure at ground level. When he was asked for even more in the last term, he stepped up and was the key person in getting the side back to the game plan. His 15 possessions, eight marks and six tackles were similar to Beck’s stats and accurately reflected his impact.
Midfielder Boadie Motton made a very welcome return to the side and was at his no fuss and unobtrusive best from the opening bounce. His uncanny ability to put himself into the most intense contests and then win and effectively use hard won possessions was highly influential. His disciplined and determined willingness to nullify the impact of talented opponents was the finishing touch to another fine game.
Captain Xavier Duursma has led by stellar example all season and did so once again in this vital match. His ability to put himself in to the thick of the most intense action and use the ball effectively was highly evident. His statistics, like Beck and Gown, indicate just how hard he worked to have a highly influential impact on the game. He had 25 possessions, nine marks and seven tackles in another wonderful leader’s game.
As the season has progressed, youngster Tye Hourigan has responded manfully to increasingly challenging requests to be the team’s key defender. He again took on and soundly defeated the opposition’s best forwards and did so with a combination of discipline, intense pressure and the ability to make the right decision in every contest. He won every one-on-one contest as well as confidently backing himself to win, and effectively use, individual possessions in tight situations.
On-baller Riley Baldi is another who has responded positively to the responsibility of being a key player in the game’s most vital area. He put himself into the thick of the action all day and ensured that he either won the contests or minimised the ability of opponents to do the same. Thirty-plus possessions, six marks and 11 tackles indicate just how well he has adjusted to this elite competition’s challenges and, more importantly the needs of his team in the vital midfield area.
Josh Smith began the season effectively as a key forward but has excelled when moved into the ruck. Once again he was fiercely competitive in every aerial contest and helped to initiate many of the side’s effective passages of play. He was equally positive in negating the impact of his opponents as well as making a vital contribution when in attack with two goals and his team focus when he couldn’t win the ball.
Nick Lowden has been able to take on the role of a utility player for the team all season. He has moved from the midfield to defence and back again and has used his strength, discipline and team focus to respond to the challenges involved. His manful contribution against the Falcons was exceptional due to the fact that he had some personally challenging experiences during the week but had focused his attention strongly to the match.
Leigh Brown and his assistants will now prepare the boys for the next challenge that sees them take on the Oakleigh Chargers. As it was with the Falcons, the boys will be playing a totally different Oakleigh team the one that they defeated early in August.
As they do every season, the Chargers have two groups of players and play for most of the season without all of their private school boys. The big challenge for their boys is that they have to quickly adjust to the very much higher standard of football that the TAC cup represents.
Despite this obvious problem, the Chargers have done this well for many seasons and Brown and his assistants will need to do their homework well to select a side that will have the ability to threaten the Chargers ability to play the more skilful and intense football that is needed in the TAC Cups finals. They defeated the Western Jets by 20 goals in their knock-out game.
Going into this match, the Power will have what is its best possible team for the first time for the season with the only issue being the availability of talented bottom-ager Mitch Benveltzen due to his back injury.
In an amazing season, Brown has been able to rely on the stunning contributions of up the 13 bottom-agers each week. Their impact to such a huge challenge form game one has been outstanding and many have played with the poise, confidence and skill of veterans.
Caleb Serong, Sam Flanders and Brock Smith are already recognised among the best in the competition while Riley Baldi, Leo Connolly, Tye Hourigan, Ryan Sparkes, Josh Smith, Harvey Neocleous, Jake van der Pilgt, Mitch and Harry Pepper have made some wonderful contributions to the team’s focus and Leigh’s individual challenges. Club officials have been aware of their vast potential for three seasons and hoped that 2018 would see some of them fit in effectively.