GIPPSLAND Power highlighted the very best of their enormous potential against the third placed Western Jets to win 16.7 (103) to 15.11 (101).
The Power went into the match with almost its best side as highly-rated young ruckman, Ryan Hearn, returned after missing much of the season due to a nagging knee injury.
The Jets were almost at full strength and ready to use the game as the club’s first chance to secure a top four finish since the inception of the competition in 1992.
In good conditions at Morwell, the Power demonstrated its commitment to coach Leigh Brown’s call for a fierce contest with some outstanding forward pressure that resulted in the opening goal to Jordie Cunico.
Some more of this disciplined, hard-nosed football saw Nick Argento create an opportunity for Sam Skinner to add another major for the team. Ominously the Jets hit back on the rebound to establish their claim on the contest but the Power were ready for the challenge and upped their work rate in the vital contested issues.
More outstanding forward pressure resulted in a goal to Declan Keilty and, late in the term, the Power had the Jets well and truly on the back foot. However, as they have done all season, the Power’s concentration lapsed badly, especially in red time, and the Jets slammed on four unanswered goals to go the first change 14 points up.
The Power had been punished for over-use of the ball by hand rather than kicking and the resultant turnovers were clinically exploited by the grateful Jets.
Brown called for more positive ball use during the break and the boys opened the second quarter with Ben Dessent, Thomas Wilson and Todd Beck doing just that to allow Josh Patullo to mark well and goal.
They were playing far more responsible football and Nash Holmes snapped cleverly to put them right back in the game. Skinner used a hard-won ball with great accuracy and penetration and Tom Papley used his skills to telling effect to give the Power the lead again.
As had happened in the first term, the Power’s lapses in focus then allowed the Jets to have relatively easy opportunities to score and they kicked three more unanswered goals.
Importantly, the Power did some good work on the rebound and Keilty took another excellent contested mark.
He converted the opportunity and reduced the Jets lead to nine points by the long break. Considering how important the match was for the Jets, the fact that the Power was still in such a competitive situation gave Brown plenty of positives to use in his half-time address.
The need for the Power to be ready for a tough challenge was demonstrated by the Jets as they scored the opening goal on the rebound early in the third term.
As if inspired by this situation, the Power again used intense forward pressure and Connor Ambler created the chance for Holmes to snap his second major. Once again the Power had the initiative and Papley, Tate Marsh and Keilty combined to set up Skinner for another goal.
The Jets upped the ante at the end of the term and again had unanswered goals after some very poor decision making by the Power. By the time the quarter ended the Jets had an 18-point lead and seemingly had the answers for whatever the Power could challenge them with.
Once again Brown used the positives to inspire the boys and he called for a final term that reflected what they were capable of in the toughest situations.
Captain Alex Carr used his long and accurate kicking to full effect and Josh Dunkley roved the pack to snap a fine goal.
A strong centre clearance by Lukas Webb created an opportunity for Patullo and he took a strong contested mark and kicked truly. With the game now in the balance, the Jets again exploited some soft Power defence but Carr again went long and Dunkley did it again with another clever snap. The Power were applying intense pressure in every contest and diminutive forward, Jake Smith, set up his fellow midget Argento to put the Power right back in the game.
Once again the Jets reclaimed the initiative after a miraculous goal from the 50-metre line and then extended their lead with a rebound goal with only minutes to go.
The Power’s uncanny ability to win the contested ball was again to the fore as Patullo set up Papley with a combination of strength and delicate skills.
With red-time looming Dunkley again snapped an inspirational goal and the Power found themselves within one kick of an unlikely victory.
With the game up for grabs the Power again went long and direct via the boot of Cunico and clever forward Papley kicked another major to give the Power a six-point lead.
They seemed inspired and were constantly in attack but missed some opportunities to put the issue well and truly beyond the Jets grasp.
In the final minutes of the game the Jets threw everything at the Power and were able to reduce the Power hold on the game to a few points within the last minute of play.
Given this scenario in most games this season, the Power would have conceded but, to their enormous credit, they held on to record a wonderful victory by just two points.
In a match with so much at stake for the opposition, the Power needed inspirational leadership from its old stagers.
Veteran Alex Carr used his renowned long kicking skills to stunning effect. As Power captain, Carr has been at the head of the competition’s contested possessions category all season, and again was at the base of the biggest and ugliest packs all over the field.
As he has done all season, Josh Dunkley responded to the challenge of playing in a variety of positions during the match. Early he took on and held a very dangerous Jet’s forward and then moved into attack when the team needed his unique goal kicking skills in the all-important last term.
His long-term team mate, Nash Holmes, was another to thrive in the thickest of the action all over the field. His uncanny ability to win and effectively use the hard-ball as well as apply intense and continuous pressure was critical in the win. He capped off a great contribution with two crucial goals.
Bottom age youngsters like Brendan Brew were up to the task with their natural skills and willingness to do the jobs that Leigh and his line coaches called for during the game.
Eighteen of the 2014 list of 39 players will be available again in 2015 and the majority of them have already adjusted to most of the challenges involved in such a competition.
Club officials are eagerly looking forward to seeing these boys set the tone for 2015 season and adding to the untold enthusiasm is the fact that the 2014 under 16 team was outstanding.
It has several players like Ben Ainsworth, Kade Renooy, Keenan Hughes, Nick Mulqueen, Tom Sabell, Brad Dessent, Jesse Collins and Will Leslie look more than ready to play many games in 2015 and they will only add to the competitiveness and quality of the new Power team next season.