THE TAC Cup season for Gippsland Power finished ingloriously as it went down to the Northern Knights in an elimination final at Visy Park.
The Power went into the match well below full strength as four of its best players, Tom Muir, Declan Keilty, Josh Scott and Nate Paredes, were on the injured list with several other players who had been important contributors earlier in the season.
On a positive note, clever small forward Alex Saunders returned after suffering an unfortunate facial injury while the sides’ hardest on baller, Liam Nash, withstood a leg injury to make a most welcome return in such a critical match. The boys had made some strong personal commitments to each other in the lead up to the game but, in reality, were behind the eight ball considering the missing players and their most recent form in the lead up to the finals.
The Knights took the early initiative and, but for inaccuracy, should have led comprehensively. They finally broke the drought with two simple goals on the rebound and it took some clever work by Alex Carr and Ash di Ciero to see Carr slot a vital major late in the quarter.
Considering their poor start to the match, the Power had minimised the damage and was well and truly in the match going into the first break where it trailed by nine points.
It was deja-vu early in the second term as the Knights took the initiative and again scored easy goals after errors by the Power. A goal from a free kick to Jordie Cunico restored some respectability to the scoreline but the Knights struck again after some poor manning up by the Power.
Lachie Channing, Ben Northover and Carr combined cleverly to allow Cunico to kick his second and they were again in a competitive position.
Just when they looked likely to get back into the contest, the umpires intervened with some poor decisions and the Knights score two more on the rebound.
The Power went into the long break more than four goals down but, even worse, had their spirits dampened by those with whistles in the most critical situations in the game. Early in the second term another iffy decision gave the Knights a gift goal but the boys persisted and Saunders scored a great goal after some great forward pressure by his teammates.
Some good work in the resulting centre bounce saw Carr kick a long bomb from outside the 50 metre line and once again the boys were making it a real contest.
In the final minutes of the term, some dodgy defensive decisions by the Power allowed the Knights to restore their lead to over five goals and Power had the job in front of it.
To illustrate how much the umpires were impacting on the Power, they had awarded the Knights an extra 14 frees up until this point and had just about broken their spirit in doing so.
If they had influence earlier in the game, their efforts in the opening minutes of the final term saw the Knights kick four consecutive goals based on really poor and inconsistent decisions.
To their enormous credit, the Power rallied with their typical determination and Aaron Heppell goaled on the run.
As if inspired Liam Nash intercepted brilliantly and then crafted a great goal to show the team that they were still in the match.
In the dying minutes the Knights finally put the issue beyond doubt and scored two more goals and ended up winning the match by 58 points, 15.17 (107) to 7.7 (49).
On a day when leadership was a critical element of the boys prospects, Josh Cashman stepped up and led by stellar example. He not only defeated several dangerous opponents with his disciplined and totally defence, but also backed his judgement unerringly to win and use many possessions himself.
Fellow defender Mitch Mustoe again took on and soundly defeated much taller and dangerous opponents with his strength and unselfish play.
Aaron Heppell was another of the side’s natural leaders who did a fine job in the midfield with his ability to consistently apply intense and courageous pressure on opponents.
Tall defender Christian Bukyx-Smith again responded to a strong challenge when he too defeated dangerous opponents with his determined ability to do the disciplined things in the tightest situations.
On ball hard nut Lachie Channing has been a vital member of the Power engine room all season with his ability to play tight, team focused football. Once again he accumulated many important possessions at ground level but also took many marks and then backed himself to take opponents and set up running play.
After suffering a facial fracture, Alex Saunders used his ability to apply intense pressure via critical “one percenters” was pivotal in many good passages of play for the team.
The Knights’ performance was excellent and they deserved their victory based on how well they played to their strengths and exploited the Power’s deficiencies due the extensive injury list. When it mattered most, they had 24 more forward 50 entries than the Power and were the only team in the 2013 season to beat them at this statistic.
The Knights had 24 more free kicks than the Power and this was not an accurate reflection of how they were playing.
The club now begins work on the 2014 season development program with the under 15 and 16 squads beginning their restricted preparations in November while one of the Powers’ best ever under 18 units will be back to their intense business at the same time.
All at the club feel that the combination of a couple of outstanding 19-year-olds, the outstanding 2013 bottom age unit and the clubs most brilliant under 16 players puts the Power in it best position going into a season since 2005 or even its best ever unit.