IN the TAC Cup season’s most wintry conditions, Gippsland Power played its best team-focused football to record a comprehensive 43-point victory over the Western Jets.
Early in the match on Saturday at Morwell, the Power made it clear it was going to play hard-nosed, competitive football, and the Jets were on the back foot as a consequence.
The home side won 17.10 (112) to 10.9 (69).
The final margin was just over seven goals, but the Power deserved to be even further ahead. The Power had twice the number scoring opportunities as the Jets.
Power went into the game without captain Ben Ainsworth, who had starred in the national championship match the day before. Coming back into the side were Callan McKeon, Changhooth Jiath, Josh Patullo, Nick Mulqueen, while Fish Creek youngster, Matt McGannon made his TAC Cup debut after finally shaking off the impact of an injury.
It meant the side had the sort of age-balance which would ensure it was highly competitive for the Jets match and continued to develop the all-important bottom-age group for the 2017 season.
Some long and direct ball use by Tate Marsh and Trent Armour allowed Jai Rout to rove cleverly off a pack and kick the opening goal. The Power dominated the next 10 minutes of play with unselfish team football but missed two “sitters” from within twenty five metres of goal.
To make the impact of the misses even more striking, the Jets scored two goals to take a narrow lead late in the term.
It took an amazing piece of determined, running football by Callan McKeon to score the goal of the year. He won a loose ball near the half-back line and then ran at least eighty metres to be able to kick a stunning goal.
This reduced the Jets’ lead to one point at the first change and reminded them that they weren’t going to find it easy to cope with the Power’s willingness to play hard in the contested issues.
To further accentuate this point, the statistics indicated that the Power had applied over thirty tackles and were conceding few easy possessions as a consequence.
In the opening half of the second quarter, things looked even harder for the Jets as the Power upped the ante in terms of contested possessions and applying pressure on opponents.
Callan McKeon went long and direct to allow Josh Patullo to take a gutsy mark against the run of play. His goal was followed by more good work from the resultant centre bounce by Will Leslie and Deven Costigan and he kicked his second goal as a consequence.
Once again, the Power began to waste scoring opportunities until some outstanding forward pressure, especially by Trent Armour, resulted in a fine snap by Will Stephenson.
The final 10 minutes of the quarter were dominated by the Jets as they took advantage of a questionable umpiring decision and then punished the Power for some sloppy defence to kick three goals almost against the run of play.
By the long break the Power led by three points but, the statistics indicated it should have been far further ahead. The Power had double the number of scoring shots than the Jets but, closer analysis showed that this was even a greater problem the inside fifty stats were also two to one.
Adding to the fact it had been so wasteful, it had applied 40 tackles for the quarter and should have been rewarded on the scoreboard instead of the statistics sheet.
Coach Leigh Brown still had plenty of positives to highlight in the long break. The team’s 70-plus tackles were an accurate indication as to how hard it was willing to work to apply team rules and the intense pressure that this implies.
In the second half, some stunning forward pressure resulted in Stephenson setting up Austin Hodge for a vital goal but the Jets were gifted with a reply after a poor piece of umpiring. Stephenson was again setting things up with long and direct ball use and it allowed Leslie to find Rout and he took full advantage of this opportunity.
Just when it appeared as if the Power was ready to take the all-important initiative, it gifted the Jets with another goal due to some poor defence.
The Jets were right back in the contest and the pressure was on the Power to remain focused on the team elements of the game plan and its determination.
More long and accurate ball use by Keenan Hughes and Hodge meant that Rout was able to kick his second major for the quarter. It seemed as if the Power had really stepped up their work rate and as Hodge and Rout used great vision and skill to enable Stephenson to kick his second goal.
Not to be outdone, the forwards were playing tough, hard-nosed football and again the defensive skills of Armour set-up Costigan who took full advantage of his stunning work ethic. As if inspired, back man Kade Renooy created another opportunity with some very attacking play and Leslie was able to finish off his fine team play.
By the final change the Power had stablished a 36-point lead but, far more critically, it had dominated much of the play for the quarter.
The statistics were again backing this up as the inside 50s for the quarter were three to one in its favour and had moved two to one for the match.
What really indicated the Power’s dominance was the tackle count, which showed it had applied only 25 for the quarter. This didn’t mean it had stopped applying pressure, but hadn’t allowed the Jets to have the ball often enough to need to be tackled.
Coach Brown again had a smile on his face at the final change and simply asked for more of the same in the fourth quarter. If they responded to his challenge the Power would have played four full quarters of team football for the season and he obviously had faith in their ability to do so.
Brown’s belief in the boys was rewarded in the opening part of the term when Leslie and Marsh again went long and direct to find Costigan who took a fine mark to be able to kick his second goal.
An astute interception by CJ Jiath allowed him to kick the ball long into attack and Stephenson unselfishly found Rout for another goal.
Just when it appeared as if the Jets had gone missing, some poor decision making in defence gave them another goal and reminded the Power about the need to play smart football. To further emphasise the need to remain focused the Jets scored another relatively easy goal.
It took a fine intercept by Callum Porter at the resultant centre bounce to break the pattern of play. He had the vision and poise to set up Jim Harrison to run and carry the ball and then find Stephenson for his third goal for the match.
Yet again the Power gave the Jet another simple goal against the run of play but this would be their last chance to worry the scorekeeper.
Trent Armour set a wonderful example in terms of forward pressure and it allowed him to finally get the ball back and kick a great team goal.
McKeon again used his pace to advantage to find Hodge and he then used his vision and skill to let clever forward Rout kick his fifth major for the match.
In the final minutes, the Power played more team-oriented football and this time it was Costigan who was able to finish it off.
In a match when many Power players were hard at it all day, Callum Porter led the way with 15 tackles, often in the most contested issues. He led the way in clearances as well and, as if not to be done with, was able to amass 20 possessions.
Defender Kade Renooy read the play to full effect, initially shutting dangerous opponents out of the game with tight defence exemplified by seven tackles but also won, and creatively used, 25 possessions.
Going forward, the Power’s direct and long attacking use of the ball meant the silky skills of Jai Rout were able to be exploited, as he finished with five goals.
Young ruckman Kieran Jones did the vast majority of the heavy work and set-up his on-ballers with many simple possessions. He wasn’t satisfied with this fine contribution and worked tirelessly when the ball was at ground level to apply pressure as well as win crucial possessions himself.
Will Leslie returned from state duties and won many contested balls, but also stood-out when he applied intense tackles in the tightest situations.
In the first half, Deven Costigan was asked to play an important role in the midfield where his pace and skills were used creatively. In the second half he went forward and, as the Power took control of the match, his skills allowed him to kick three goals.
The contributions of Callan McKeon, Will Stephenson and Trent Armour belied the fact they had only played about 20 TAC Cup games between them. Close analysis of their basic statistics indicated nearly 60 possessions between them but, as importantly, they had applied almost 60 tackles as well their critical five goals.
It gives the club immense pleasure to consider the future when so many of the key Power players were bottom-agers and the most recent additions to the team, Matt McGannon and Matt Pearce, have also shown that they are more than ready to cope with the demands of elite football at this level.
The Power will host the Oakleigh Chargers on Saturday at Morwell.