GIPPSLAND Power finally broke its run of outs in the 2013 TAC Cup season with a victory over the Bendigo Pioneers and, in the process, confirmed its place in the up-coming finals series.
Going into the match the Power were behind the eight ball as they had four of the team’s best players still missing due to injury. Impressive youngster Jack Hammond joined Alex Saunders, Tom Muir, Declan Keilty, Liam Nash and Josh Scott on the sidelines and it meant the Power needed to dig deep to set itself up with the chance to redeem themselves in the September action.
On the surface, the 11.19 (85) to 8.6 (54) victory was okay, but closer analysis shows coach Nick Stevens still has lots of issues to address if the boys are to get back to the sort of form that had them looking so good mid-way through the season. They had 40 more inside 50 forays than the Pioneers and once again struggled to convert these hard fought opportunities to goals.
The Power eventually won by three goals, 13 behinds, instead of the much larger margin its general play deserved.
Some clever ruckwork by Jack Leslie enabled Ed Morris to go long and direct and Jordan Cunico crumbed the resultant pack to score the opening goal.
The Pioneers upped the ante for the next 15 minutes and the Power really struggled to be able to set up positive scoring opportunities. The Pioneers then punished this wastefulness and scored their opening major and then did it again after some very sloppy Power defence.
Brenton Rees fed off a handball to Alex Carr on 50 and he scored with a long bomb. Carr then became the provider in a similar position as Bohdi Walker kicked one of his “specials” to finally allow the Power to get some sort of effective play going.
Instead of capitalising on this, the Power allowed the Pioneers to tie the scores at the first change after they goaled easily on the rebound and it looked a lot like the difficulties from the previous month were going to haunt them again.
This situation was compounded when the Pioneers scored early in the term after punishing some lazy manning up by the Power.
A long kick by Adam Wallace allowed Ben Kearns to score a reply off the pack but the Power then wasted chances to extend their lead with more poor finishing. It took a free kick and 50 metre penalty to Rohan Hildebrand for the Power to score a goal but once again, the Pioneers hit back on the rebound.
More goals were missed by the Power until some classy work by Lukas Webb allowed Kearns to take a fine mark and then give the Power a nine-point lead at the long break.
It appeared as if the half-time address by Stevens had an impact as Lachie Channing and Connor Ambler used quick and skillful handball to set up Morris for the opening goal.
Nathan Dennison then used some clever footwork to kick another before Kearns became a provider to allow Rees to score and give the Power a lead that better reflected their dominance of general play.
Once again the Pioneers increased their competitive efforts and stemmed the flow of Power goals.
A freak snap by the Pioneers added to the disappointment by the Power and they again began to squander hard-won chances to shake the Pioneers off. Some excellent forward pressure by Cunico set up Troy Toussaint to kick a vital goal and they led by 34 points at the last change. However, closer analysis showed just how the Power had been so inefficient in finishing off their more intense play.
The home side had 20 more entries into its forward 50 than the Pioneers but had only scored four goals form these chances. To add to the problems, the Power kicked eight points and had really wasted the chance to put the game beyond dispute.
More of this ineffective forward play by the Power occurred early in the last term and the Pioneers added to the problem by scoring the first goal after fifteen minutes of very “iffy” football.
Ed Morris finally set-up Toussaint for another but the Pioneers scored a reply from the resultant centre bounce to put an end to what had been a welcome but very wasteful win by the Power.
On a day when so many key players were missing, Ed Morris rose to the occasion and led by stellar example in a typically complete game of team oriented football. He amassed more than 40 hard-won possessions all over the field and added his “normal” double figure tally of crunching tackles to his days’ work.
Onballer Adam Wallace matched Morris’ work rate and was a key play maker in the thick of the action. He had more than 30 gritty possessions with nearly twenty clever handballs to reflect his amazing willingness and strong commitment to play team rather than individual football all day.
Youngster Connor Ambler took his TAC Cup career to greater heights with an amazing effort in the vital area of contested football. He won plenty of the ball in the heaviest passages of play and used really clever handball to set a lot of effective team work, while his 10 plus tackles finished off a great game.
Ruckman Jack Leslie dominated the aerial contests all over the ground but then took his contribution to even higher levels with his ability to be just as competitive when the all was at ground level. He played as if he was a tall ruck-rover and illustrated how flexible and quick he can be when in contested issues.
Key defender Mitch Mustoe took on and defeated taller opponents in another disciplined game of unselfish football. He was able to back himself to win key possessions himself and used his strength and pace to run and set up deep forward penetrations with his long kicking skills.
Fellow key defender Christian Buykx-Smith was another who safely held dangerous opponents with some very effective defensive play but he too was able to win his share of possessions and make good use of them by hand or foot.
The Power will play the Northern Knights this Sunday in an elimination final from 11.15am at Visy Park, Melbourne.
With a bit of luck, some of the longer term injury group might be available to give the team some much needed stability and confidence.
Coach Nick Stevens will be working hard to address the wastefulness of their forward forays in recent weeks and hopefully Ben Kearns can be a leader in this vital area. He has, up until last weekend, been deadly when finishing off but his two goals and seven behinds illustrated the problem that existed last week.
Kearns has uncanny ability to win important possessions in the air and at ground level and can be the saviour if he has his kicking boots on. His importance is further demonstrated by the fact that key forwards Josh Scott and Declan Keilty will be missing and he now has the major role to play in the team’s forward structure.