ALTHOUGH Gippsland Power didn’t record its first win of the TAC Cup football season, the team’s performance against the highly-rated Murray Bushrangers left coaches and supporters with a lot of positives to focus on for the rest of the year.
The final margin at Princes Park in Melbourne was 33 points, but the Power was sight of a stunning victory late in the game despite seemingly being headed to a big loss late in the second quarter.
Going into the match after a huge and morale-sapping loss against Geelong the week before, it appeared likely, on paper, it was headed for even deeper trouble as the Bushrangers had defeated the Falcons earlier in the season. One positive for the Power was the return of Josh Patullo and debutants Ethan East and Callum Porter making highly significant contributions to the side’s improved performance.
The message sent by coach Leigh Brown after the Falcons loss was based on greater commitment and competitiveness and, in the opening minutes of the term against Murray, it appeared that message had been taken on board. The Power was applying intense and highly effective pressure on its opponents all over the ground and through some good work by Sean Masterton, Anthony Young was able to kick the first goal of the match.
Midway through the quarter, the Bushrangers kicked their first goal, but, instead of getting back on track, the Power allowed its opponent to kick the sort of easy goals which had been its problem against the Falcons.
By the first break Gippsland trailed by 21 points down, but, more importantly, had allowed the Bushrangers to seize the momentum with minimal opposition.
As it had done at the beginning of the match, the Power took the early initiative but was off target before some strong work by Young and Trent Armour allowed Masterton to kick an important goal. Not to be outdone, the boys kept up the pressure and James Harrison and Jedd Serong went in hard to win the ball and then use it well to allow Ryan Hearn to kick the side’s second major in a row.
Just when it appeared the lessons of the first term had been learned, the Bushrangers upped the ante and slammed on five goals. A combination of turnovers and being exposed on the resultant rebound had gifted the Bushrangers some of the goals and things were looking grim just before half-time.
The boys made a big effort late in the quarter and Austin Hodge and Will Stephenson applied pressure to allow Young to kick a vital goal. The Bushrangers’ lead was 30 points and once again the Power had provided its coach with plenty of issues to address.
It appeared the boys hadn’t listened to coach Brown’s subtle reminders early in the quarter when Murray was able to kick an easy goal. This seemed to inspire the Power to get real and great forward pressure by Young created a chance for Kade Renooy to bring back the status quo and he took full advantage of it.
Instead of building on this, the Power wasted gettable opportunities to kick goals and then watched forlornly as the Bushrangers capitalised on two defensive clangers.
It took some clever ruckwork by Keenan Hughes to set-up Nick Mulqueen to kick a critical goal and bring the margin at the final change back to 31 points. The huge positive for the boys from the quarter was how they had limited the Bushrangers to two goals and had maintained this sort of pressure for the whole term instead of fading badly as they had done in the first two quarters.
At the beginning of the final term, intense pressure by Young and Callum Porter set-up Masterton to snap a clever goal and it appeared the Power was back in the match.
Two more poor defensive decisions gifted the Bushrangers with goals almost against the general run of play and once again they looked ready to blow the margin out.
Some remarkable poise by Will Leslie and Renooy found Hodge, who restored balance for the team. This was followed by some amazing ball use and positive thinking Josh Patullo, Jai Rout, Masterton and Leslie to once again bring the margin to under five goals.
Almost, as if call, fate stepped in again and gifted the Bushrangers with a fickle bounce and goal, giving them a 14.17 (101) to 9.14 (68) victory.
The final margin was 33 points, but most involved with the Power saw only positives from the match. After an indifferent first half, the Power had applied more intense and effective pressure and had played the sort of football Brown believed it was capable of.
In his second match of the season, Deven Costigan stepped-up to the challenge of leading his younger teammates. Costigan blitzed talented opponents with some disciplined and hard-nosed defence, but also had the confidence and skill to win and effectively use may important possessions.
Following this example was Sale youngster Will Stephenson, who made a huge impact when on the ball and in attack with his fearlessness in the tightest contests. He applied many fierce tackles against bigger opponents as well as winning and unselfishly using contested possessions all over the ground.
Captain Will Leslie was another who set an example for his side.
Leslie took on and soundly defeated dangerous opponents when in defence as well as playing an equally inspiring role when on the ball. His use of his pace and long and direct kicking were key elements of his performance.
In his first TAC Cup game, Ethan East took on the challenge of a major role in defence and responded manfully as the match progressed.
Not to be outdone by his fellow debutant, Callum Porter won many contested possessions, but his ability find the time and space to make good use of the ball was exceptional.
The next challenge for Gippsland Power will be the Calder Cannons at Morwell on Saturday. The likely return of captain and AFL Academy member Ben Ainsworth will boost the Power.