ALTHOUGHGippsland Power didn’t record itsfirst win of theTAC Cup football season, the team’s performance against the highly-rated Murray Bushrangers leftcoaches 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, butthe Power was sight ofa 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 Geelongthe week before, it appeared likely, on paper, it was headed for even deeper trouble as the Bushrangershad defeated the Falcons earlier in the season. One positive for the Power was the return ofJosh Patulloand 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 thatmessage had been taken on board. The Powerwas applying intense and highly effective pressure on itsopponents 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 Bushrangerskicked 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 21points down, but, more importantly, had allowed the Bushrangersto seize the momentum with minimal opposition.
As ithad done at the beginningof 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 appearedthe lessons ofthe first term had been learned, the Bushrangersupped the ante and slammed on five goals. A combination of turnovers and being exposed on the resultant rebound had gifted the Bushrangerssome 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 appliedpressure to allow Young to kick a vital goal. The Bushrangers’ lead was 30 points and once again the Powerhad provided its coach with plenty of issues to address.
It appearedthe boys hadn’t listened to coach Brown’ssubtle 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 finalchange back to 31 points. The huge positive for the boys from the quarter was howthey 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 appearedthe Power was back in the match.
Two more poor defensive decisions gifted the Bushrangerswith goals almost against the general run of play and once again they looked ready to blow the marginout.
Some remarkable poiseby 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 andLeslie 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 indifferentfirst half, the Powerhad applied more intense and effective pressure and had played the sort of footballBrownbelieved it wascapable of.
In his second match of the season, Deven Costigan stepped-up to the challenge of leading his younger teammates.Costiganblitzed 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.
Leslietook 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 manycontested possessions, but his ability find the time and space to make gooduse of the ballwas exceptional.
The next challenge for GippslandPower will bethe Calder Cannons at Morwell onSaturday. The likely return of captain andAFL Academy member Ben Ainsworth will boost the Power.
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