DESPITE a week’s break, Gippsland Power went into its TAC Cup match against arch rivals Dandenong-Southern Stingrays on a downer, with four key players missing due to injury.
The Stingrays held on to win by eight points, 11.14 (80) to 10.12 (72).
Tom Muir, Bodhi Walker, Liam Nash and Nate Paredes, who between them have consistently played crucial roles in the side’s best performances in 2013, were all ruled out.
Talented youngster Lukas Webb was back after missing much of the season due to school commitments, under 16 player Connor Ambler won selection again and dour defender Ben Northover came back to add stability to the taller brigade.
It was a vital test for the Power as its recent form had been ordinary at best and they needed to get back to their accountable and efficient game plan if they were to be prominent in the finals series.
With the Stingrays kicking with a strong wind the Power opened well and it took several minutes for the Stingrays to break free and open their account. A poor defensive decision resulted in another Dandenong major but Power were persisting with coach Nick Steven’s game plan and the Stingrays were finding it hard to set up scoring opportunities.
A free kick gave Dandenong another goal late in the term but the Stingray’s 21-point lead at the first change gave the Power confidence as they prepared for their chance to use the advantage of the strong wind. However the hosts weren’t playing their part in the Power’s plan and the Stingrays scored two against the wind to open the second term.
The Power was struggling to kick goals at the other end, despite having several scoring opportunities.
It took 15 minutes to get it right before Josh Scott scored after marking well in the goal square. Good pressure saw Lukas Webb deliver to Scott for another and then Webb intercepted brilliantly and finished off to get the momentum going the Power’s way.
Connor Ambler used his hard-nut approach to give Scott another and then Ed Morris snapped truly to put the Power three points up at the long break.
In the third term against the wind, Webb went long and direct to allow Josh Cashman to score a major but the Stingrays struck straight back to restore the status quo.
The Power were applying excellent pressure all over the ground and some great vision and skill by Ben Kearns and Scott saw Lachlan Channing goal to give the side the initiative.
Channing again became the provider as Kearns snapped another off the pack and it looked as if the Power had seized a crucial advantage going into the final quarter.
Late in the term the Stingrays kicked two critical goals to seize a four point lead. More importantly, they were right back in the game despite the fact that they had been so well held for much of the term.
Dandenong’s advantage was intensified early in the final quarter when they kicked the opening major. In stark contrast the Power were again wasting gettable scoring opportunities and this was punished even further when the Stingrays penetrated the Power defence again for another goal.
With the game in the balance Scott kicked a crucial goal after a free kick and 50 metre penalty but, more poor ball use, saw the Stingrays respond and take a good lead late in the term.
The Power were working hard but were letting themselves down with poor finishing. It took some great pressure play by Ambler to break the pattern but it was too late and the Stingrays hung on well for an eight-point win.
Aaron Heppell is renowned for his ability to apply intense pressure on opponents but took it to another level when he won vital possessions himself and used them skilfully to get positive play started for the Power. His willingness to play dedicated team football was the key to his contribution.
Key forward Declan Keilty again demonstrated his growing importance to the Power’s game plan when he provided his team mates with a great target going into attack. He took strong contested marks as well as dominating rucking contests in the forward line with his excellent palming skills.
Young defender Jack Hammond is another who has worked hard to adjust to the tempo of the TAC Cup and was very effective in quelling dangerous opponents with his disciplined play. He added vital positive play to his game by winning key possessions himself.
On-baller Adam Wallace is another renowned for his ability to apply intense pressure in contested issues all over the field and he was once again a critical contributor in this area. His ability to use handball in tight situations was an added highlight of his game.
In his second TAC Cup game, Connor Ambler illustrated his potential and immense talent with a terrific game in the thick of the action. He too plays committed team football and was able to win key possessions as well as applying great pressure on key opposition midfielders.
Josh Scott was again the main target for the Power going into attack and had to contend with multiple opponents once again. He contested each of these situations with his usual strong efforts and had the side’s interests at heart at all times.
The Power now goes into the last home and away game for the season against Bendigo Pioneers with a simple task – win the game and play finals, lose and throw away a realistic chance to be able to finish their season off well.
The Power has been beaten in the past five matches after playing brilliantly in the weeks before their current slump.
It is likely that at least three of the missing brigade will be back for the Pioneers and this should give them the stability to defend smarter and, more importantly, use the ball up forward positively and effectively.