By Tyler Lewis
“I thought he was the major player on the ground, and when we needed a strong influence over the contest, he provided that.”
Riley Baldi did his draft hopes no harm on the weekend in a stirring performance for Gippsland Power that earned the praise of coach Rhett McLennan.
In a monster triple header at Queen Elizabeth Oval in Bendigo, the Power got off to a slow start, allowing the Pioneers to add the first three majors of the day, before Riley Baldi converted his and the Power’s first of the morning.
After the Power kicked goals through Sam Flanders, Ryan Sparkes, Fraser Phillips and Baldi’s second, Bendigo edged away and refused to give up the early ascendancy without a fight.
The Power switched on in the second term and started playing the electrifying brand of football that has them sitting in second position.
Baldi dished off an unselfish handball to Fraser Phillips who snapped Gippsland in front for the first time for the day.
But again, Bendigo wouldn’t roll over without a hassle – taking the lead once again in the crucial moments.
Tye Hourigan ran around and snapped the Power ahead, but with 23 minutes gone in the final term, Bendigo’s Noah Walsh was involved in a chain of handballs in the middle of the ground and then ran hard to put his side in front.
Most sides would have felt like the game was over, but for the Power the deficit was only an opportunity to show what they are capable of and the frenzied pressure lifted a gear in the final minutes.
In a matter of moments, Mason McGarrity converted his set shot to get the Power back ahead, before Fraser Phillips drained the clock before converting his set shot to win Gippsland an astonishing game of football, and secure them a second chance final against the dangerous Oakleigh Chargers in two weeks’ time.
Riley Baldi was simply superb all day, wherever he went he had an influence, and Rhett McLennan praised the efforts of the potential draftee on his consistency.
“It was a consistent performance throughout the game out of the midfield and as well as being dangerous when he went forward,” he said.
“He (Baldi) was good for four quarters, used the ball well on the outside kicking two goals but in the coalface when we needed a strong body over the ball, I thought Riley was excellent.
“We definitely had him as our most dangerous and effective player on the ground.”
The Power had played one game in three weeks before the match against Bendigo, and will now have another week off due to finishing second – something McLennan thinks caused his side’s slow start and a factor his coaching staff is working on before facing Oakleigh.
“Looking back in retrospect we feel the two weeks off left our guys a little bit rusty,” he said.
“We probably didn’t start as well as we should’ve, instead of being really hungry for the contest I thought we started flat and it took into the second quarter to wake up.
“We are planning it now, it really depends on working closely with our staff and coaches on how much touch we need and also how much work we need to put into the guys so we are cherry ripe for our first final.
“We actually felt we ran the game out quite well, and the numbers probably say we did too.
“But it is our touch we were probably a bit sloppy on during the game.
“We are big on our guys being competitors, even though we didn’t have our best game when the game was there to be won, our guys showed up.”
The Power face the Oakleigh Chargers in two weeks in a qualifying final, a monstrous opportunity for the young Power prospects to compete against a side that holds the favourites for pick one and two in the National Draft.
BENDIGO 3.3 5.5 6.9 9.9 (63)
POWER 1.2 5.3 6.8 10.13 (73)
Bendigo Goals: R. Wilson 2, J. Ginnivan 2, S. Mitchell 2, J. Treacy, N. Walsh, T. Dow.
Best: R. Wilson, B. Rowles, R. Ironside, S. Conforti, J. Ginnivan, B. Worme.
Gippsland Goals: M. McGarrity 2, F. Phillips 2, R. Baldi 2, C. Comben, S. Flanders, T. Hourigan, R. Sparkes.
Best: R. Baldi, T. Hourigan, F. Phillips, R. Sparkes, L. Connolly, R. Angwin.