GIPPSLAND Power’s variable TAC Cup football season continued last Saturday against the Eastern Ranges.
On the positive side, Power regained important players in vice-captain Will Leslie, ruckman Ryan Hearn and AFL Academy member Aiden Quigley.
A further step forward was the fact that their all-important inside 50 metre conversion rate was one goal per three entries, a statistic that normally reflects a victory.
However, this didn’t happen as the team only had about 35 scoring opportunities compared to the Ranges’ 70.
To further rub this differential in, the Ranges were equally as efficient in their conversion rate.
The Ranges won at Box Hill 17.18 (120) to 11.4 (70).
A more damaging factor in the loss was the sad fact the Power really struggled with a statistic the club had dominated for the past 10 seasons, the contested ball and clearances from stoppages.
On Saturday, game the Power seemingly dropped the ball in this vital area and the Ranges’ on-ball brigade won a big majority of these contests.
Consequently, the Ranges best player, Gordon Gallucci, was able to amass an amazing number of uncontested possessions. He then had the time and space to put the Power defence under constant and intense pressure.
The result was that, despite working had to stem this incredible flood, Power could do little to address the Ranges’ incredibly effective conversion rate from their seventy scoring opportunities.
Once again coach Leigh Brown and his assistants came away from a match with mixed feelings. They face a difficult issue in terms of what they would have assumed was a club “given,” their ability to be the competition’s toughest team where it mattered most, contested ball all over the ground.
The match opened with the Power, via a long and direct kick by Kade Renooy, allowed forward Austin Hodge to snap the first goal of the match. Things got even better when more efficient ball use resulted in Hodge taking a fine contested mark and he kicked his second major.
It was as if the boys had finally got the message as, with some excellent forward line pressure, Kane Oldham found Will Stephenson who kicked the side’s third unanswered goal.
Power continued to make good decisions, and Callan McKeon and Keenan Hughes found Hodge who snapped his third for the quarter to put the Ranges well and truly on the back foot.
From this point, midway through the term, the match changed as the Ranges scored six unanswered goals and ran riot in terms of winning the contested ball. With Gallucci leading the way, they went to the first break 15 points up but, more importantly, with the momentum well and truly going their way.
In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Power regained some of the initiative and Nick Mulqueen found Hodge who again took a strong mark and then kicked his fourth goal. This proved to be their last scoring shot for the term, as the Ranges again exploited the Power’s lack of commitment in contests to kick three more goals.
It was nowhere as bad as the appalling play in the latter part of the first quarter but still had the coaches ready to lay the law about commitment down during the long break.
It appeared as if the boys were unwilling or unable to respond positively to the need to be more committed to the basic team needs as the Ranges kicked three more goals in a row. Not only was the Power uncompetitive in contests but players were making poor decisions in terms of coping with the strong wind blowing diagonally across the ground.
Any forward thrusts went the wrong way into the danger zone and made it far too easy for the Ranges defenders to repel.
To emphasise this problem, a rare direct entry created a chance for Mulqueen to snap a goal and it seemed as if the message was starting to get through. Will Leslie and Ryan Hearn went quick, long and direct and once again Hodge took a fine contested mark and converted another rare scoring opportunity.
On-baller Stephenson then added to the more positive style of play with a clever snap but the Ranges scored another goal from the resultant centre bounce.
Power went to the final break 31 points down when it initially appeared as if it was going to be much worse.
The opening minutes of the fourth quarter were again a reflection of the Power’s incredibly poor commitment to apply pressure in contests and the Ranges kicked two more goals. Once again the Power went back to basics and Tate Marsh was more direct with the ball to allow James Harrison to kick a fine goal off the resultant pack.
It was now the turn of Stephenson to show how committed he was to the right game plan as he kicked a long bomb form outside 50m and gave the Power more scoreboard respectability. Almost on cue, the Ranges took the initiative again to exploit further slack Power application in contested issues and kicked two more goals.
In the dying minutes of the game another rare positive forward thrust by Leslie and Nick Hogan was capitalised on by Deven Costigan.
In a match when the Power defence was under so much intense pressure, the steadiness and poise of Deven Costigan not only held his dangerous opponents, but had the skill and confidence to generate a lot of vital scoring opportunities for the team.
Louis Risely who also combined the ability to quell the influence of key forwards and generate a lot of positive play with his skills, pace and fearlessness.
Will Leslie, playing as captain, generated many of the team’s scoring opportunities with his aerial skills, pace and willingness to take the opposition on to win the ball and then use it effectively.
Kicking five goals, Austin Hodge not only was a vital forward but also did a lot of hard work at ground level.
Aiden Quigley demonstrated his flexibility and willingness to respond to the coach’s challenges by filling in a variety of roles all over the ground.
On a day when he had to take on some talented opponents, Josh Patullo was able to be highly competitive as a ruckman, as well as taking many contested marks all over the ground.
On-baller Will Stephenson kicked three vital goals, accumulated a lot of contested possessions as well as applying more than 10 tackles.
Callum Porter was another member of the defensive unit who not only withstood intense and consistent pressure but also had the confidence and skill to take risks to generate positive passages of attacking play.
The Power has a week off as the TAC Cup has uses the time to begin developing the under 16 and 18 state teams for the national championships. The team’s next match will be on May 29 at home against the Northern Knights.