GIPPSLAND Power’s penultimate match of the TAC Cup football season was an accurate reflection of the inconsistencies which have bedevilled its 2014 campaign.
On paper, Power was soundly defeated by the Sandringham Dragons, 12.11 (83) to 6.12 (48). However, closer analysis of the performance showed the score line wasn’t a true reflection of Power’s competitiveness against an incredibly strong Dragons side.
For the first time of the current season, the Dragons had its “A” team available because there was no more school football.
Give this scenario, Leigh Brown and his coaching assistants had worked hard to prepare the boys to meet an intense challenge to their competitiveness.
For much of the match they managed to meet this demand extremely well and even had chances to have slight leads by the end of each quarter. However, “red-time” was the killer for them as they allowed the Dragons to kick six relatively easy goals against the general run of play with only minutes to go each time.
This situation has typified the frustrating season for the Power side as it had been a genuine winning chance in every match in the 2014 season despite the relative ladder position of their opposition teams.
When they were focused fully on the key elements of Brown’s game plan, the players were capable of playing stunning, hard-nosed football. Unfortunately, in the majority of these games, they had temporary lapses in concentration that ultimately robbed them of what were well-deserved victories.
After a very tightly contested opening stanza the Power used the “quick, long and direct” formula through Brad Olsson and Sam Skinner marked strongly and kicked truly. Once again both sides applied intense pressure on each other to minimise genuine scoring opportunities.
Some good competitive work by Josh Patullo resulted in a vital gaol to Declan Keilty and with a few minutes to go, the Power were well in control.
A “red-time” goal to the Dragons reduced the Power lead to seven points but it could and should have been much greater considering how well they had applied intense pressure on the Dragons all over the field and, how they had had five more inside their forward 50 entries compared to the Dragons.
After wasting a very gettable chance to kick the first goal of the term, the Power allowed the Dragons to kick two, far too easy, goals. Instead of letting this throw them form what Leigh had asked for, they upped the competitive ante, minimised the errors and applied some excellent forward pressure.
The result was that Keilty and Gavin Low combined to create a goal that put them back in the game. Once again, late in the quarter, the Dragons broke free and scored two timely goals to go into the long break two goals ahead.
Things didn’t look good for the Power early in the third term when a defensive “howler” gifted the Dragons with another goal.
The Power responded manfully and created opportunities to get back into the game but missed more relatively easy opportunities to do so.
It took a brilliant Alex Carr “special” from the boundary just inside the forward fifty to inspire the boys but the Dragons seized the initiative against the run of play.
Youngster Ben Dessent then used his initiative to create a positive piece of rebound play to set Jordie Cunico up for a much needed goal.
For much of the rest of the term the Power again dominated the inside forward fifty entry statistics but couldn’t convert this to scoreboard pressure. Almost on cue, the Dragons again seized the last minute momentum and kicked two goals to extend their lead to 23 points.
In the opening minutes of the final quarter, Cunico kicked a long bomb from outside fifty after some excellent vision from Nash Holmes.
For the majority of the quarter, the Power had many scoring opportunities but again couldn’t convert them to much needed goals. The Dragons mad much better use of their hard-won chances and by the end of the game had extended their lead to almost six goals.
This score differential certainly didn’t reflect how well the boys played for much of the game. As they had done all season, they dominated the all-important contested football issues and applied nearly one-hundred tackles against the Dragons.
Alex Carr and Nash Holmes led the way for their teammates in this vital area as they accumulated over fifty possessions between them but, far more importantly, had over 25 crunching tackles in the thickest of the action all over the field.
In a match where the challenges for the Power were so great, the leadership from captain Alex Carr, was outstanding. He worked tirelessly in the most contested issues all over the ground and used his long kicking ability to give his forwards the best opportunities to be competitive.
Fellow on-baller Jordie Cunico also led by example in winning key contested possessions and used his long and accurate kicking skills to telling advantage.
Josh Dunkley showed why he is in the elite AFL Academy squad with his strong game in the on-ball brigade as well as in key positions. He too made excellent, insightful use of his many contested possessions but hand and foot as well as taking many very good contested marks.
Liam Nash once again took on and soundly defeated some of the Dragons best players had his nearly twenty effective aerial spoils reflect his determination.
Declan Keilty contested the all-important aerial duties manfully but was equally effective when the ball was at ground level or in the fiercest packs.
Young defender Ben Dessent followed Nash’s outstanding example in taking on and defeating key Dragons opponents with a combination of disciplined and close checking defence and the ability to back himself to win and effectively use vital possessions himself.
Gippsland Power will play its final TAC Cup game of the season against the Western Jets at Morwell on Sunday.
Coach Brown will be keen to finish the season off with an important victory as the first part of the preparation for the 2015 season.
Eleven of the players in the team that was so competitive against the strong Dragons unit will be able to play again next year. Their well-established work ethic, experience and ability to be super competitive against quality players this year give all at the club much to look forward to in 2015.
Once again the Power looks highly likely to dominate the TAC Cup’s key statistics such as tackles and contested with Nash Holmes, Josh Dunkley, Sam Skinner, Connor Ambler, Corey Stockdale, Todd Beck and Ben Dessent very ready to establish their own formidable “Bruise Brothers” entity for themselves.