GIPPSLAND Power’s TAC Cup football campaign took a turn for the worse on Saturday when it suffered a significant loss to the Bendigo Pioneers.
The final margin of 43 points wasn’t a fair representation of the Power’s competitiveness in general play, but certainly reflected the difference between the sides in terms of clever use of the ball, especially when moving into the forward line.
The home side won 17.13 (115) to 10.12 (72).
Four changes were made to the round one team which played so well for much of the match against the Dandenong Stingrays.
Key players Deven Costigan, Charlie Walsh and Will Leslie were back after injury while bottom-ager Callan McKeon made his debut. Captain Ben Ainsworth was missing because of AFL Academy obligations.
This scenario was made worse for the Power when Nick Hogan was concussed during the pre-game warm-up and was unable to take his place in the team. His loss was crucial for the side’s prospects as he has the ability to be a key player in the tightly contested issues as well as having the pace and skill to generate a lot of drive.
The first Bendigo goal was a reflection of many which came the Pioneers’ way throughout the game as they clinically capitalised on a Power turnover.
The Power defence was under extreme pressure early in the game but stood tall and temporarily stopped the flow of goals. It took until midway through the quarter until Nathan Voss, Kade Renooy and Costigan used poise and skill to allow Jai Rout to kick a timely goal.
A 50 metre penalty allowed the Pioneers to reply with a major. From the resulting centre bounce, the Power put together a fine passage of play when Ryan Hearn, Costigan and Renooy combined to find Trent Armour who kicked truly.
Once again a 50m penalty gave the Pioneers another goal when the Power was punished for not manning up and the Pioneers went to the first change 25 points up.
After coach Leigh Brown reminded the boys about the most important aspects of the game plan, they took the early momentum but missed a sitter.
More positive play from defence by Voss and Will Leslie resulted in Aiden Quigley setting up Armour to put them back into the contest. More positive play by Cody Henness resulted in Armour kicking his third major but the Power let themselves down with poor decision making and skills as the Pioneers replied with two quick goals.
It took outstanding pressure by Callan McKeon and Chankuoth Jiath to create an opportunity for Sean Masterton to snap a vital reply and then Henness kicked a goal from a long way out.
Scores were level by the long break but it wasn’t something the Power was happy with as the Pioneers’ goals had come far too easily compared to their own.
In the third term a continuation of the poor manning up by the Power allowed the Pioneers to seize the early initiative and they immediately snapped a freak goal. Almost against its usual run of play, the Power went long and direct through Will Stephenson and Masterton took a fine contested mark to bring the scores back to level.
Ominously the Pioneers then kicked three successive goals via a combination of poor skills and poor decisions by the Power.
A goal from a free kick to Tyrone Hayes reduced the embarrassment and then some more long and direct play by Henness on the siren was capitalised upon by Ryan Hearn.
The margin was 13 points at the final break and the game was still well and truly within their reach. However it would require much smarter play if they were going to get a score that better reflected their hard work ethic.
The Power opened the final term with a combination of deplorable reading of the play and terrible skills as the Pioneers kicked four unanswered goals and put the issue totally beyond doubt.
Good work by Keiran Jones resulted in another strong contested mark by Masterton and he converted his hard-won opportunity to kick the side’s only goal for the quarter. Two more Pioneer goals took the final margin out to 43 points.
With Ben Ainsworth missing, vice-captain Kade Renooy rose to the occasion and led the side by wonderful example. He worked hard to win 30 possessions and was in the thick of the action for the entire match.
After missing much of the 2015 season, Deven Costigan returned and showed why he was so highly rated in his debut season. He too won many contested possessions, tackled fiercely and then made excellent use of the hard-won ball.
Defender Corey Timms was under a lot pressure but resisted the Pioneers manfully. He worked hard against dangerous opponents but then had the confidence to win vital possessions as well.
Sean Masterton belied his inexperience in TAC Cup football with a strong performance as a key forward. He took contested marks as well as being highly competitive when the ball was at ground level.
Josh Patullo led the defence by example as he pressured key forwards as well as having the willingness and skills to back himself to win and effectively use many possessions.
Trent Armour was another forward to make effective use of his opportunities often when under intense pressure. He marked strongly but really was highly competitive at ground level with his willingness to work hard in packs and give others easy possessions.
Another positive for coach Leigh Brown to focus on after such a disappointing performance was the fact youngsters Tyrone Hayes and Will Stephenson worked so hard. Hayes won and efficiently used more than 20 possessions, while Stephenson was tireless in the busiest packs with 14 strong tackles on often bigger opponents.
Gippsland Power’s next match will be on April 16 against the Geelong Falcons at Kardinia Park.