(Photo courtesy of Gippsland Power)
As the siren sounded to end one of the greatest TAC Cup Grand Finals of all time, the Oakleigh Chargers emerged victorious by a point. Oakleigh’s line-up included first round draft picks Jackson Macrae and Kristian Jaksch as well as the talented bottom-ager Jack Billings to celebrate the narrowest of wins. For the losing side, the Gippsland Power, they had the likes of Nick Graham, Tim Membrey and Josh Cashman who were all prominent players that fell agonisingly short of a premiership. This season, Gippsland Power is determined to go that one step further and avenge last year’s harrowing loss.
Gippsland has overhauled its playing list this season, rejuvenating the side with plenty of unfamiliar names in a bid to chase premiership glory. Much of Gippsland’s talent has come from the Traralgon area with only four players hailing from west of Morwell. History tells us this is hardly surprising with Gippsland’s most talented players recruited from East Gippsland such as Scott Pendlebury (Sale), Dyson Heppell (Leongatha) and Xavier Ellis (Lakes Entrance) who have all forged successful AFL careers.
Gippsland Power midfielder Nathaniel Paredes told of how a concentrated team effort, rather than individual brilliance would help take the Power to back-to-back Grand Finals. “Every player will play a big part if we are to be successful” Paredes said. “Some players will standout such as our top-agers, our captain Josh Cashman, Tom Muir, Josh Scott and Ben Kearns while some of our other players such as Aaron Heppell and Lachie Channing will play a big part in our success this season.”
The Power are the oldest team in the league with four top-agers on their playing list this season, but coach Nick Stevens has said prior success means little in determining who plays each week, guaranteeing everyone a chance to prove their worth. Stevens has placed a large emphasis on players earning their spots which has proven successful thus far.
Gippsland’s first game for the 2013 TAC Cup season showed just how hard Stevens had worked his squad in the off season, defeating the talented Dandenong Stingrays at home in an impressive 23-point win to kick off its season.
Defender Tom Muir provided plenty of run and carry throughout the match, relishing his new role off half back. “My new position at half back, it’s a new start so I am taking everything on board and listening to everything and trying to have an impact from there.” Muir said.
Saturday April 6 had been marked down in the calendar of every Gippsland player the moment they stepped onto the training track for pre-season. It was the day the faced their Grand Final conquerors, something that lingered in the minds of the Power players. Muir admitted feeling confident in the week leading up to the Grand Final rematch against the Oakleigh Chargers. “The intensity was easy to maintain because everyone was up and about from round one with the win.”
Paredes admitted the Grand Final loss was still very prevalent in the minds of the players. “It was very motivating, we all really wanted to get them back for beating us in the Grand Final. It was hard after that loss as we so badly wanted to win it” he said before running out.
Oakleigh traveled to Gippsland in a carbon copy replay of the Grand Final, leaving many spectators with a sense of déjà vu for the crowd who witnessed last year’s frantic final. Gippsland skipped out to an 18-point lead at the first break but the talented Chargers clawed their way back to within five points at the main break. The seesawing battle continued in the second half with Gippsland taking an 11-point lead into the final term.
Unlike last year’s Grand Final, it would be Oakleigh who charged home, inspired by forward Billy Hogan who booted four last quarter goals to lead the Chargers to a narrow five point win. For the second time in just over six months, the Gippsland Power had just fallen short of achieving victory that they craved so badly.
While it was a heart shattering loss for the Power, they see it as just the beginning of a long season. “Although we lost there are heaps of positives from the game and we will improve even more when we play them later in the season. We really owe it to each other to get the win which would be massive for our confidence” Paredes said. Muir agreed, adding that while their structure had improved, they would need to perform longer than two quarters to secure the four points.
Although Gippsland couldn’t get that elusive win over the fancied Oakleigh Chargers, Nick Stevens has his squad looking primed for the rest of the season. If they continue to play the style of football they have been throughout the first two rounds of the season, they are a massive chance and threat to avenge their 2012 Grand Final loss that they so badly want to achieve.