By Samuel Darroch
GIPPSLAND Power’s 2014 squad may not be the biggest or strongest in the TAC Cup, but coach Leigh Brown believes it will be among the most competitive.
The 39-man list named last week lacks the height of some other franchises, despite nine players being taller than 190 centimetres, and contains roughly a 50-50 split of top and bottom age footballers.
“You would think we are (tall) looking at the numbers, but we’re probably not as tall as the other teams,” Brown said.
“I think the strength of Gippsland Power, throughout its whole existence, has been how competitive the boys are and how much they love a contest; they hate to be beaten.”
Sixteen Latrobe Valley players made the final cut, including returning Traralgon lynchpins Christian Buykx-Smith and Jordan Cunico.
After missing a chunk of last season with a broken arm, Christian will resume his role as key defender after testing well through pre-season.
“He’s a big tall aggressive fella, and he’s got some really good qualities; he tested very quick so it’s exciting for him,” Brown said.
The club will field three over-age players in forward targets Declan Keilty (Moe) and Alex Carr (Maffra), along with Liam Nash (Mirboo North).
Their experience will help soften the departure of 2013 league leading goal kicker and Morrish Medallist Josh Scott in the forward line, but the Glenelg signing leaves a hole Brown expects several players will have to fill.
“I don’t think there’s one key man, there’s a few guys that can float through there,” Brown said.
“Declan Keilty will probably play a fair bit forward then we’ve probably got a few bottom age guys in Ash Di Ciero, Josh Patullo and also the big ruckmen can rest down there.”
At 198cm, bustling Boisdale-Briagolong addition Macklin Raine will be one such target.
Macklin takes his place in the ruck, filling the big shoes of Gold Coast Suns signing Jack Leslie, having broken into Power calculations through pre-season.
Macklin, along with Brazilian-born Aloysio Ferreira (Wonthaggi) – who has only been in Australia for the past seven years – are this year’s bolters from outside the Power system.
“He’s played some really exciting footy as a backman in our practice games, so we’re really excited to have those two guys on the list who’ve come from outside,” Brown said.
Lukas Webb (Lakes Entrance) and Bohdi Walker (Sale) are the standout ‘veterans’, while Newborough’s Sam Skinner is an exciting addition following his efforts with the Australian Institute of Sport development squad in New Zealand.
The club has had mixed success in practice matches against Sandringham, Eastern Ranges and Dandenong, but Brown believes the side will only improve as the season goes on.
“We’ve been really pleased with the progression… when their endeavour is up they play some great footy, it’s all about making that a consistent thing now,” Brown said.
However, with an influx of new bottom age talent, Brown said he would focus on development before results.
“A lot of these guys playing their junior footy were the best player and they could go out, run around and play footy, and not necessarily learn some of the skillsets they need to play at a higher level,” he said.
“Defence is one of those things that probably gets put on the backburner when you’re an elite junior running around at your local club and dominating, so defence is something we’ll focus on and ingrain.”
In a boost to the club’s coaching panel, former Australian Football League players Dylan McLaren, Troy Makepeace and Stuart Anderson will play a role in the development department.
Power begins its TAC Cup campaign against Dandenong this Saturday at Morwell Football Ground.