PANTHERS PREVAIL IN HIGH INTENSITY CONTEST
A dominant performance by evergreen ruckman Jacob Gough proved decisive in a high quality, see-sawing win by Morningside over the Northern Territory Thunder in Cairns tonight.
The Panthers triumphed by 21 points in a game that saw a fierce attack on the football by both sides and neither give an inch at any stage.
Morningside won 17.8 (110)-13.11 (89), with the Thunder losing important running defender Shannon Rusca for the season with a knee injury and Kevin Tandogac with a broken jaw.
After an even first quarter in which Gough started strongly and David Lillico and Paul Shelton dominated at ground level, and Jared Ilett counter-punched for the NT, Morningside took control by dominating the opening 20 minutes of the second term.
They applied relentless pressure to the ball carrier and created numerous turnovers, with Nick Clark consistently finding space for himself in defence and setting up a wave of attacks.
The Territory fell behind by 18 points, but then kicked 5.2-0.0 in a 20 minute period either side of half time to grab a 14-point lead.
Matt Cannard was everywhere on a wing and Darren Ewing provided a great target up forward, booting five of his side’s first seven goals.
With Jackson Emblem keeping Kent Abey quiet at centre-half-forward and Ilett controlling the middle, the Thunder appeared set to run away with the game.
Just as quickly, Morningside posted three goals in six minutes from midway through the term to hit the front, and the NT suffered a blow when Rusca was stretchered from the field.
Morningside had lost Tyson Upton in the opening minutes of the game, so the rotations were level again and the Panthers continued to press.
With Hayden Wilson lively at half-forward and Nathan Kinch giving added run on the ball, they led by 17 points before the Thunder got a steadier just before three-quarter-time.
The Panthers took full control of the final term with the opening five goals to open a matchwinning break, Jarrod Price keeping Ewing under wraps after going to the dangerman at the start of the third term, and Lillico running the game out strongly going head-to-head with Ilett.
The Thunder’s cause wasn’t helped by Tandogac leaving the field early in the final term after doing a solid job against Shaun Mugavin.
Gough was inspirational with not only his astute rockwork, but his ability to take telling marks across all lines of the ground.
Shelton played a key part late in the third term comeback, while Lillico and Clark were not far behind Gough in terms of impact.
Ewing booted the Thunder’s last goal to finish with 6.1, while Ilett’s fearless effort despite a sore groin was super impressive.
Shane Thorne kicked a goal of the year contender in the second half and was lively through the final three quarters while David May was solid against the hard-running Austin Lucy.
The Thunder could have capitulated when trailing by 40 points entering time-on of the final term, but kept persisting and finished strongly, which drew the praise of coach Michael McLean.
“I keep learning about my group that they have plenty of heart and plenty of spirit,” said Thunder coach Michael McLean.
“It was still disappointing to lose because at the end of the day it was a winnable game.”
Panthers boss John Blair was delighted to emerge victorious in what was an intense game of football.
“It showed a lot of character from both sides,” he said.
“We were starting to struggle a bit in the third quarter but a few of the younger guys put their hands up and really had an influence through the latter stages.”