By Kate Mitchell
A CRUCIAL component for his team’s success, 17-year-old Matthew ‘Moose’ McGannon is having a stand out season for Gippsland Power.
Growing up at Waratah Bay, if he wasn’t at the beach or in the water surfing, McGannon was playing whatever sport he could, be it footy, basketball or cricket.
For McGannon it was a great place to be a kid.
“We used to own the caravan park down at Waratah Bay, so summer holidays were pretty cool.”
His life revolved around sport and the outdoors. His dad was the local Auskick coordinator, so naturally McGannon grew up with a footy in his hands. It was at those Auskick sessions where his love of the game began.
A natural athlete, McGannon seems to effortlessly glide across the field at top speed but also has the explosive power to launch himself in to a marking contest.
At 182cm with long limbs and broad shoulders, he is still growing and building up his body.
Now in is in his fifth year at Gippsland Power after progressing through the under 15 and 16 ranks, McGannon has become an important player for the TAC Cup team. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
In his first year with the TAC Cup squad McGannon was diagnosed with stress fractures. It led to a lengthy break from the game and a slow rehabilitation process.
“It was probably my first real serious injury so it was a bit of a learning curve for me,” McGannon said reflecting on that tough and frustrating period.
From adversity comes strength. Due to that injury McGannon has a greater understanding of how to look after his body. He knows how vital preparation is to withstand the rigors of elite football.
“It’s something that I still have to manage now, but I keep on top of it by doing as much core work and stretching as I can.”
After a slow start to 2016, McGannon managed to come back from injury and play a number of games for Power as a bottom aged player. He showed promising signs as his development progressed.
With Power just missing the 2016 finals, McGannon went back to his local club Fish Creek, in the Alberton Football League, playing for the seniors at just 16 years of age.
Fish Creek made it through to the grand final, going on to defeat Inverloch-Kongwak by 17 points to win the premiership. Playing alongside his brother, McGannon was named in the best players for the premiership team.
Recounting the memories from that day McGannon’s eyes lit up, “The whole thing was pretty unreal”.
“It was such a good experience, I will never forget that.”
For McGannon it was also an opportunity to continue his development.
While the intensity and the speed of the game may not have been the same as a TAC Cup match, for McGannon the physicality of senior football was higher than anything he had experienced.
He learned how to ply his trade under greater physical pressure.
McGannon was able to take that momentum into Power’s preseason and complete the full program, which has made all the difference this year.
“I came back from injury last year and played some good footy late, then progressed through and had a good preseason and now I’m putting some good games together.”
That preseason fitness base enabled McGannon to hit the ground running, and boy, can he run.
Power head coach Leigh Brown has used McGannon in a number of positions due to his versatility, but primarily his role has been on the wing.
McGannon relishes the opportunity to play there as he gets to run. He rates his ability to run hard both ways as one of his key strengths.
“I like the wing, but really I will play wherever they need me to, helping out wherever I can.”
That team first attitude was on display in round six when McGannon went back to play a shutdown role on Jaidyn Stephenson from Eastern Ranges. Touted as a first round draft pick with the ability to kick big bags of goals, Stephenson was held goalless by McGannon.
Coach Brown has high praise for McGannon.
“He’s an exciting prospect which he has shown already throughout the year, becoming a really important player for us.
“He covers the ground well and his work rate is exceptional.
“He is very good kicking with both feet, nice and clean with the ball and he’s also really good in the air.”
While he is classified as top aged player with Power and eligible for the 2017 Draft, a late December birthdate means McGannon was only a few days off being part of the class of 2018.
Unlike many of his opponents, McGannon is still in in Year 11, studying at Mary Mackillop Catholic Regional College in Leongatha.
With a number of his Power team mates attending the same school, and what McGannon describes as “a good group of core mates”, he has a supportive peer network around him who understand the sacrifices he needs to make.
“They have got a pretty good awareness of what goes on around here at Power.
“I tell them about the importance of training and the stuff I have to do outside of Power on my own.”
It’s a tough balancing act, but the level headed McGannon manages to fit it all in.
In the last eight TAC Cup games that he has played in, McGannon has been named in the best players for seven of them. In a rich vein of form, he knows that there is still plenty of work to do to continue his development.
Consistency across four quarters, going for his kicks and taking the game on are just some of the things coach Brown is working with McGannon on.
“Some of the stuff he does can be really good and flashy, it’s about seeing more of that which is going to be really important for him going forward,” Brown said.
“We are working on finding ways for him to use his weapons in a game more often and more consistently to really show off his style of play and his footy ability.”
McGannon is still young in terms of his footy career, but if recent form is anything to go by it’s an exciting future ahead.