PRE-SEASON fitness work paid dividends for Gippsland Power as it began its 21st TAC Cup football season with victory over the Dandenong Stingrays at Morwell on Saturday.
The Power went into game with nine debutants, Christian Buykx-Smith, Jordan Cunico, Mitch Mustoe (all from Traralgon), Bohdi Walker, Bradley Olsson, Brenton Rees (Sale), Nathan Dennison, (Bairnsdale), Lukas Webb (Lakes Entrance) and Declan Keilty (Moe). Five of the newcomers are bottom-age and four made late entries to the list after they had worked hard to win a place as top-agers.
Added to this impressive group of new-comers was the inclusion of three over-age “veterans” Josh Cashman, Tom Muir and Josh Scott, who brought incredible skills and invaluable experience to the side. Ben Kearns is also a member of this elite group and played with Casey Scorpions as the Power can only used three overage players each game.
In ideal conditions and in front of a huge crowd, it was the Power who took the early initiative as Alex Saunders cleverly found Nathan Dennison for the first major. Another long and direct forward entry resulted in Jake Thomas combining with Josh Scott to give the Power its second goal.Instead of continuing to control the tempo, the Power was put on the back foot by the Stingrays who began to fed their front runners with ease.
Luckily for the Power, the Stingrays missed several chances to kick goals and the Power then began to squander its hard-won opportunities. For about 10 minutes the teams kicked nine points between them before the Stingrays finally broke the drought.
Some gutsy play by Brenton Rees saw Thomas mark strongly to give the Power a crucial reply, but the Stingrays capitalised on too many Power handballs to reduce the margin to three points by the first break.
Coach Nick Stevens used the quarter-time break to subtly remind the side about the need to follow basic elements of the gameplan and tighten up on the one-on-one contests to minimise the Stingrays’ scoring opportunities.
Some competitive play saw Alex Carr and Scott combine to allow Lukas Webb to kick a good goal and then Tom Muir and Carr linked up to give Nate Paredes another. A ball-up on the Power forward line saw Lachie Channing set up Webb for his second for the term.
The Power was dominating all aspects of play and had effectively shutdown the Stingrays’ forward 50 entries by applying intense pressure all over the field. Such hard-nosed play resulted in Declan Keilty marking well and he converted the chance to kick his first TAC Cup goal.
More determined and disciplined play resulted in Scott being found unattended and he too converted his easy mark.
By the long break the Power had extended its lead to 32 points and had followed the team gameplan to the letter. The boys had doubled their tackles for the quarter and, more importantly, had restricted the Stingrays to only eight forward 50 entries.
The Stingrays seized the initiative in the opening minutes of the third term, but the Power went long and direct through Keilty to allow Thomas to mark and goal. For much of the rest of the quarter the Power allowed the Stingrays to dominate play by failing to man-up and apply the sort of intense pressure that had been so obvious in the second term.
Dandenong kicked three unanswered majors for the rest of the quarter and reduced the Power’s lead to 15 points by the final change.
Stevens again had to challenge the boys to play team-focused football and to stick to the basic elements of the gameplan.
It appeared they hadn’t listened to his request early in the final quarter when the Stingrays kicked the opening goal, but some clever ruckwork by Thomas allowed Paredes to kick a crucial Power goal after four unanswered majors by the Stingrays.
The Power began to shutdown the easy chances for the Stingrays and some good pressure resulted in another goal to Keilty from and clever snap.
With about 10 minutes left, the Stingrays took advantage of a costly Power turnover and it was game on again.Some more disciplined play by the Power allowed it to regain the initiative and Webb capitalised on the vision shown by teammates to put the issue beyond doubt late in the quarter.
The final siren saw the Power record a well-deserved 23-point victory, 12.13 (85) to 8.14 (62).
On a day when the side lacked a lot of experience, the leadership of Liam Nash was critical in the win. After a restricted pre-season program due to injury, he quickly returned to the outstanding defensive football that saw him be a standout for the Power in three of the best games ever seen in the TAC Cup during last year’s finals program.
Young key defender Christian Buykx-Smith stood tall especially when the Stingrays were able to attack relatively easily.Setting the example for Christian to follow was old stager Tom Muir, who relished his role at centre-half back and was able to soundly defeat his opponent with discipline and skill.
Key forward Josh Scott was another to set a fine example with his ability to provide a highly effective avenue to attack as well as to apply consistent and intense pressure on opponents with his willingness to tackle them and protect teammates.
Ruckman Jake Thomas played his best game for the side with a strong performance in the aerial duels as well as providing a highly effective avenue through which to attack.
Captain Josh Cashman was another to lead by stellar example with his typically hard-nosed defence and willingness to back his judgement to run and set up attacking play.
Bohdi Walker has had an illustrious junior career and quickly adjusted to the unique pressures of TAC Cup football. He soundly defeated dangerous opponents and was then able to use his immense skill and reading of the play to consistently generate drive with effective and creative use of the ball.
Lukas Webb was another to quickly adapt to the competition’s intense standards of play and thrived on the pressure in the midfield as well as being able to get forward, kicking three goals.
This Saturday, Gippsland Power will host the Oakleigh Chargers at Morwell in a rematch of last year’s thrilling grand final.