GIPPSLAND Power’s latest match in the 2016 TAC Cup season demonstrated how far the side has come on its learning curve.
While the Dandenong Stingrays recorded an eight-point victory, up until the final seconds of the match, the Power looked highly likely to record a win against considerable odds due to the relative differences of their ladder positions.
The Stingrays won 10.16 (76) to 10.8 (68).
The Power went into the match with a much-needed boost, with the return of captain Ben Ainsworth. He had missed several games because of injury and suspension, but had played a stunning match for Victorian Country the previous weekend.
On a negative note, the Power was still without injured state squad members Aidan Quigley and Codey Henness, while Nick Hogan joined his bottom-age team mates due to a minor injury.
In the opening minutes of the game, it was very obvious that it was going to be a tight game with neither side willing to concede an easy opportunity to get on the scoreboard.
The Power defence was playing disciplined, no nonsense football and helped to set up the first goal of the match as Will Stephenson set up Jai Rout to score a fine major as he roved the ball cleverly off the pack. Rout then turned provider as he went long and direct and Ryan Hearn goaled as a result of a free kick.
By the end of the term, the Stingrays were goal-less and trailed the Power by eight points but, closer analysis of the important statistics, indicated why they were in such an uncommon situation.
The Power defence was under consistent and intense pressure, but had stood firm despite the ball being in the Stingrays danger zone for much of the term. The tackle totals indicated why they couldn’t convert these opportunities as the Power had applied a stunning thirty-four bone crunchers to help set the tone for the rest of the match.
Things didn’t look good for the Power early in the second quarter after the Stingrays scored two simple goals with rebound football after turnovers by the Power. The defence had little or no chance to intercept the ball as it came into the zone with little or no pressure on those setting things up.
Not to be outdone, the Power used the centre bounce after the second Stingrays goal to regain the momentum.
Will Stephenson went long and direct to find Ben Ainsworth, who created the opportunity for Rout to score a very good goal despite being under extreme pressure. The Stingrays hit back quickly to regain the lead but, once again, the Power used the right way to go into attack as Tate Marsh created the opportunity for Trent Armour to snap a morale boosting goal.
By the long break, the Power led by one point and was still applying intense physical and mental pressure on the Stingrays.
Once again the Stingrays opened the scoring for the term with another easy goal, but it seemed to inspire rather than intimidate the Power. Some wonderful skill and vision by Kieran Jones and Rout resulted in Ainsworth kicking the easiest of goals.
It was then the Stingrays turn to kick a vital goal but, importantly, the Power were far from done with. Another long and direct forward thrust by Louis Riseley resulted in a free kick to Nathan Voss and he finished it off accurately.
Some excellent pressure was applied by Will Leslie and Travis Bindley to allow Armour to kick another clever goal. With seconds to go in the quarter, the Stingrays scored another crucial goal and the sides went to the last change level.
This situation put the Power into a rare situation for the 2016 season as they needed to be able to play four quarters of highly competitive and consistent football to record a win.
Hearn set the scene early in the quarter with a deft piece of ruck work to allow Rout to kick another fine running goal. Ominously, the Stingrays kicked a vital reply but the Power were not ready to concede without a lot more hard work.
Keenan Hughes set the next scoring opportunity up with another long forward fifty entry and Corey Timms found Charlie Walsh who kicked a critical goal.
Yet again the Stingrays hit back by creating a very easy rebound goal and then added to the pressure with another to seemingly simple major to finally put the game beyond the Power’s reach.
Trailing by eight points, the Power again used the ball well to find Voss and he took full advantage of a 50 metre penalty to put his team within a kick with minutes to play.
In the last seconds of the game an “iffy” umpiring decision robbed the Power of a chance to regain the lead and, to add insult to injury, the Stingrays scored the last goal right on the siren.
In a match when the Power defence was under a great deal of pressure, the leadership shown by Sean Masterton made a difference. He not only dominated his key forward opponents with seven strong contested marks and 13 spoils, but also amassed 15 possessions.
Masterson also had the confidence to use most of them to set up attacking play and was easily the best player on the ground.
Deven Costigan who was able to generate many scoring opportunities with hard-won possessions and strong, contested marks. His ball skills and clever reading of the play meant that team mates were able to receive the ball with a minimum of pressure.
Corey Timms returned to the team and was challenged to take on taller and dangerous opponents. Not only did he easily meet the demands of his coach but also had the confidence to back his judgement and attempt to win and effectively use the ball.
Keenan Hughes has become a vital member of the team’s defensive unit. His ability to use his leap and reading of the play was again evident as he spoiled many opposition marking opportunities as well as taking several contested grabs himself.
Up forward, Jai Rout again displayed the skill and uncanny reading of the play that make his a key forward for the side. He was highly effective at taking full advantage of his own scoring opportunities as well as being a crucial contributor in setting up the chances for his team mates to kick goals as well.
Onballer Callum Porter relishes the most contested issues in games where he uses his courage and strength to win the hard ball. He again led the way in this vital area but also had the willingness and rare ability to take opponents on and break clear to be able to use the ball to his team mate’s advantage.
Despite the loss, the Power coaches had plenty to be pleased about based on the quality of the boys’ performance. For the first time this season, they played four quarters of committed, competitive and very disciplined team oriented football, and followed the key elements of the game plan.
The Power will host the Western Jets this Saturday at Morwell. Tough on-baller Nick Hogan will likely be available, while the team’s best big man Josh Patullo will return from the VFL side Casey.