GIPPSLAND Power came from 34 points down at three-quarter-time to defeat the Dandenong Stingrays by 11 points in its TAC Cup qualifying final on Saturday.
The 12.5 (77) to 9.12 (66) win at Visy Park gave the Power a week off ahead of a preliminary final against either the Sandringham Dragons or Geelong Falcons.
After passing a last minute fitness test, skipper Tim Membrey came into the Power line-up at the expense of Darcy Irwin. High flying forward Josh Scott was also back after injury, and youngster Jake Thomas returned to help carry the rucking duties.
In ideal conditions, the Stingrays jumped Power early, posting two quick goals and a stunned Power seemed to have no answer to their run. In an extraordinary first quarter, the Stingrays went on to kick 4.5, while the Power struggled to even get a shot on goal.
Twenty-nine points down at the first break, Power coach Nick Stevens asked his players to “take a breath and get your composure back”. He had faith in their ability to do the hard things and simply reminded them that they had what was required to get back into the match.
From the opening bounce Power took the ball forward and strong work by Nick Graham set-up Matt Northe to open the Power’s scoring. Just to remind the boys to keep doing the hard things, the Stingrays exploited another turnover and scored a reply.
A bit of Anthony Tipunwuti “magic” set-up Ben Kearns for the Power’s second goal before the Stingrays went on to show just why they finished in the top four, scoring two more quick goals.
Late in the quarter, Graham went forward with a long and penetrating kick which allowed Tim Membrey to kick a vital goal. In the dying moments, Liam Nash followed Graham’s example with a long attacking kick and Membrey took another competitive mark, kicking the goal on the half-time siren.
It was a better effort and the Power went into the main break with a bit of momentum. Coach Stevens singled out the endeavour of Lachy Channing at half-time, telling the boys his attack on the footy and effort at the contest was setting the example that they needed to follow.
The belief was there as the Power began the second half well. Midfielder Will Hams set-up Membrey with a one-on-one contest and all of a sudden Power was right back in the game.
The Stingrays were not going to lie down, kicking away again with two goals.
By the last change Power was 34 points down, but the boys were up and about.
Clever work from Josh Scott set-up Hams for the opening goal of the quarter and then Kearns made the most of a move up forward to snap a vital goal as the Power looked like a different side from the first half.
Defender Jack Johnstone played on after being awarded a free kick outside the forward 50 and kicked a huge goal, the margin cut to just 14 points.
Somehow Kearns kicked another freakish goal off the ground and suddenly the Stingrays were struggling to hold on to what had appeared to be an unbeatable lead. Hams again got the ball into a dangerous position with a long bomb and Membrey’s handball under pressure allowed Kearns to reduce the margin to two points.
A great centre clearance allowed Northe to find Membrey who kicked a captain’s goal from deep in the forward pocket. The Power had hit the lead for the first time of the match
Gippsland was dominating the game but there was still over 10 minutes left.
In a thrilling finish, the Power was able to keep up the pressure on the Stingrays with the defenders standing up. When Shannen Lange found Kearns, he went on to snap his fourth goal for the quarter.
With under a minute remaining the game was put beyond doubt.
By the final siren Power had won the game by 11 points, it was a 45-point turn around. The boys had stuck to the game plan Stevens had shown such enormous trust in and believed in each other.