GIPPSLAND Power will meet the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup grand final this Sunday at Etihad Stadium following a four-point win in the preliminary final against the Sandringham Dragons.
At the first bounce the Power boys were reminded of the impact Tom Fusinato can have on a contest. In his first game in several months after suffering a serious neck injury, Fusinato was straight into the middle, gaining the crucial first clearance with his kick finding Tim Membrey for the first goal of the match.
But it didn’t take the Dragons long to answer.
Goals to Membrey (two), Josh Scott, Ben Kearns and Matt Northe gave the Power a one-goal lead at quarter-time.
The tone was set for the match, a goal-for-goal arm wrestle where no team was able to break away with a big lead.
In the second quarter both teams upped the ante defensively and it seemed free kicks in front of goal were creating more scoring opportunities than open play.
A patch of Anthony Tipungwuti magic just before half-time saw Power go into the main break with an 11-point lead.
Errors in decision-making and man-marking began to creep into the game for Gippsland early in the second half. Nick Graham’s first goal for the game kept the Power in front but the Dragons weren’t going away anytime soon they were relentless in their run.
Both teams were working incredibly hard but the reward for effort wasn’t there, with the Dragons kicking 4.4 to Gippsland’s 3.3 for the quarter.
When needed, captain Membrey stood up, slotting through a tough shot from the forward pocket with ease. His fifth goal gave Power the lead going in to the final quarter.
Membrey continued to be unstoppable on the lead and began the final quarter with another grab and a huge goal from outside the 50-metre arc. Minutes later he had done it again, putting through his seventh goal but the Dragons replied with a quick score, and after a free kick in front of goal were suddenly in front by four points.
Brilliant work from the midfielders enabled Liam Nash to bomb in it to Membrey. His eighth goal never looked like missing to put the Power up by four points.
When another free kick was given to the Dragons in front of goal it seemed like the game was destined for a heart-breaking finish, but Morrish Medallist Nick Graham stepped up and under immense pressure, calmly converted a set shot with just minutes remaining on the clock.
The teamwork from the Power in the dying minutes of the game was outstanding. Desperation from Aaron Heppell stopped a Dragons run in their forward 50, while there were sighs of relief after Tipungwuti baulked and cleared the ball from defence with a massive barrel kick.
As the siren sounded, the crowd erupted. Power had won an epic match by just four points, 16.10 (106) to 15.12 (102).
Tom Muir was given the challenge of supporting Jack Leslie in the ruck and was brilliant in this role.
Jack Johnstone, Lachie Channing and Josh Cashman all shut down key Dragons players, while Will Hams and Shannen Lange were again prolific ball winners in the middle.