TAC Cup review: Finals week one

Dandenong Stingrays 14.5 (89)
Eastern Ranges 8.8 (56)

Stingrays goals: Egan (3), Rennie (2), Pickess (2), McCartney (2), Jones, Bastinac, Lonie, Gardiner, Mullane
Eastern Ranges goals: Apeness (2), Keedle (2), Hannon, Roth, McStay, Petracca
Stingrays best: Jones, Pickess, Harmes, McCartney, Foote, Basinac
Eastern Ranges best: Cavarra, Apeness, Nielson, Petracca, McStay, O’Sullivan

Just six days after the Stingrays couldn’t hit the side of barn if they tried, Dandenong found themselves in a preliminary final having found the sticks 14 times, kicking only five behinds in an impressive display. Coming into the match, the Stingrays were praised for their stingent defence which was ranked second in the competition for scores conceeded. Its attack however was only ranked 7th showing a clear weakness in terms of scoring power. It was made worse when Tom Lamb was a late withdrawal, one of the few who can unload from 50 metres with ease. Luckily for Dandenong, they weren’t looking at statistics when they systematically took Eastern Ranges to the cleaners in their first finals win a few years. Having the horror of being knocked out in straight sets last year, the boys from the Peninsula were keen to see that not happen again.

While much had been talked about Eastern Ranges’ midfield, a late withdrawal to Mitch Honeychurch meant that they had lost a little bit of speed that could counter the likes of Billy Hartung and Clayton McCartney. It showed with Dandenong running the Eastern boys ragged, booting four goals to one in the first quarter. To show it wasn’t a fluke or wind related in perfect conditions, the Stingrays then repeated the effort in the second quarter to lead by 34 points at the main change, holding the best attack in the league to just two goals at the half. Christian Petracca was the only forward looking dangerous for the 2nd placed side, and he was off target. Up the other end it was a completely different story with Brady Egan and usually inaccurate Matt Rennie who scored three consecutive behinds the week before, who were booting goals while Clayton McCartney was wreaking havoc with his run and carry.

By three quarter time, the margin had increased to 40 points as the sting went out of the game. Billy Hartung was impressing in his new role off half back and providing the constant run that he usually provides through the middle while Zac Jones was phenomenal in the middle, taking hits and dishing them out in his usual fiery manner. While the play overall wasn’t fantastic in terms of kicking efficiency, Dandenong brought intensity that Eastern Ranges couldn’t handle. While both Honeychurch and Tom Boyd were obviously missing from the Eastern Ranges’ side, Tom Lamb was just as crucial for Dandenong. With the game all but over, Mitch Keedle chipped in with a couple of late goals but it counted for nought as the Stingrays earned a week off with an impressive 33-point victory over the Eastern Ranges.

Geelong Falcons 13.11 (89)
Calder Cannons 7.7 (49)

Falcons goals: McCartin (3), Goddard (3), Dixon (3), Bond (2), Thompson, Maishman
Cannons goals: Wright (2), Cooke (2), Christensen, Clothier, Ahern
Falcons best: Maishman, Russell, Tsitas, Adams, Cameron, Fort
Cannons best: McConnell, O’Brien, Donoghue, Clothier, Jensen, Lever

Geelong Falcons might have had an early scare from the Calder Cannons, but the minor premiers showed why they won 14 games in 2013. The Cannons booted two of the opening three goals to lead by three points at quarter time and seemed to be matching the Falcons around the contest. Despite not having the names that the Falcons had on their team sheet, the underrated Cannons were able to impress a number of people early in the match. Unfortunately it didn’t last much longer as the Falcons went on to boot ten goals to four after quarter time to win by 40 points.

The difference between the two teams was the key forwards with Patrick McCartin, Hugh Goddard and Scott Dixon all booting three goals, while smaller forwards Doug Bond and Marcus Thompson added another three goals. For the Cannons, Peter Wright and Jason Cooke were the only multiple goal scorers while goal scoring midfielder/forwards Aaron Christensen and Paul Ahern managed a goal each. James Tsitas was instrumental in the middle while the likes of Joe Maishman, George Cameron and Reid Adams used the run that was usually reserved for the injured duo in Lewis Taylor and Darcy Lang.

Despite those guys not taking part in the rest of the season, the Falcons are through to a preliminary final where they will face the winner of Eastern Ranges and Northern Knights for a spot in the Grand Final. For the Calder Cannons, they have shown they have the intensity to match it with most teams but probably just lack that extra bit of class to get the job done in the finals. They would like their chances to win against the Western Jets to set up a meeting with the Dandenong Stingrays. If Matt Merlo, Tom Donoghue and Jedd Clothier can continue their good form, there’s no reason why the Cannons can’t face the Falcons or one of the other sides in the Grand Final in three weeks. For the time being, their focus will be purely on this week’s match with the Western Jets.

Northern Knights 15.17 (107)
Gippsland Power 7.7 (49)

Knights goals: Lennon (3), Kalanj (2), Langford (2), Porter, Smith, Bowkett, Short, Bromley, Turner, Bontempelli, Peet
Power goals: Cunico (2), Carr (2), Heppell, Nash, Saunders
Knights best: Murphy, Lennon, Iacobaccio, Turner, Switkowski, Kalanj
Power best: Cashman, Mustoe, Heppell, Buykx-Smith, Channing, Saunders

Northern Knights have shot into the semi finals to face Eastern Ranges with a huge 58-point win over an injury depleted Gippsland Power. Ben Lennon was instrumental through the midfield and half forward flank, booting three goals in the win. For the Power, the likes of Aaron Heppell and Jordan Cunico were continually using their run to the advantage of their team. For most of the first half, the Power were able to stick with the Knights despite missing leading goal kicker Josh Scott, tough onballer Nathaniel Paredes, rebounding defender Tom Muir and key forward Declan Keilty from their best 22. With the extra class across the ground, the Knights were able to boot 13 goals to six after quarter time.

While it wouldn’t have made the difference, the Gippsland Power players were incredibly frustrated with the umpiring in the second half as the Northern Knights were getting a number of ‘soft’ free kicks which even brought a few smiles from the Knights players. The final umpiring count finished at 43-24 frees in the Knights favour which was skewed given the Power received 12 free kicks in the last quarter. Nonetheless, the game was an interesting contest that despite the final margin, was a free flowing game that was often played end-to-end.

Marcus Bontempelli was well held in the middle but it was the extra pace of Josh Turner and Bill Murphy who impressed for the Northern fans while Jake Kalanj was also impressive off half back, kicking two foals. For the Power, Alex Carr played a great game early booting two goals including a beauty from the pocket under pressure for the goal of the weekend. While Gippsland are now eliminated from the finals, with plenty of bottom-age talent, they will be another side to watch next season. For the Northern Knights, they face Eastern Ranges in the semi-final on Sunday.

Western Jets 10.12 (72)
Murray Bushrangers 9.9 (63)

Jets goals: Iaccarino (3), Sicily (2), Singleton, Greiser, Ellis, Hickey, Myers
Bushrangers goals: Holman (2), Gibbons, Squire, Sharp, Sneyd, Brett, King, Neagle
Jets best: Greiser, Iaccarino, Hickey, Walshe, Ellis, O’Leary
Bushrangers best: Gibbons, Holman, Cousins, Sneyd, Impey, Mellington

The Western Jets made a great escape to knock off the Murray Bushrangers in the final quarter by nine points to move through to the semi-finals. After trailing all match by as much as five goals including a 15-point three quarter time deficit, the Jets booted the last four goals of the game and kept the Bushrangers goalless. It would be remiss not to recognise the fantastic efforts of David Iaccarino and Jake Greiser in the last quarter, booting three of the four goals and providing constant movement through the middle. While not overly quick players, they were able to use their quick thinking to get the ball forward. A late injury to key Bushrangers player Michael Gibbons turned the tide with the Jets winning the contested ball and driving it forward.

Both Gibbons and Nick Holman were phenominal throughout the match with Holman being a forlorn figure, collapsing as the siren sounded, wondering how the Bushrangers let the match slip. It was by far the game of the round and while it wasn’t overly skilful, both teams were going 100 per cent and the defensive pressure was right up there with the best matches this season. The last quarter had everything from lead changes to goal-saving marks and it was the Jets who triumphed to the cheers of their fans.

For the Murray Bushrangers, that was it. They will begin looking towards the 2014 TAC Cup season with the most number of AIS members of any side which means they are looking mighty solid for the upcoming season. For the Western Jets, they face Calder Cannons on Sunday for the right to face the Dandenong Stingrays in the preliminary final. Both sides have had impressive seasons with great coaches and will be looking to get into the final four with an important win on the weekend. If the Jets can bring their defensive pressure to the semi-final then they are a real chance of achieving that win and a spot in the preliminary final.

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