By David Nagel
Narre Warren’s watershed moment has arrived after the mighty Magpies ended the brave run of Cranbourne with a 42-25 victory in Saturday’s preliminary final at Pakenham.
The dominant team of the last two years, the back-to-back reigning champions will now face their nemesis of 2017 – Tooradin-Dalmore – in a grand final that looms as the landmark moment in their recent history.
But hold that thought for a moment – first we need to dissect the Magpies advance to the big dance.
Cranbourne came out firing, taking the early lead, before the Magpies settled to take an 11-6 advantage into quarter time. Their first-quarter dominance stemmed from precise ball-movement through the middle of the court from the likes of Erin Clark (WD), Leigh Taylor (WA) and Britt Mashado (C).
That last feed into goalers Chloe Phillips (GS) and Tayla Shannon (GA) was crucial, with Eagles’ defenders Tara Cecil (GK) and Sharni Lambden (GD) the best in the business at picking off the loose ball.
But, despite the Eagles fight, there was an air of inevitability about this one after quarter time, the Magpies gradually pulling away with a superior brand of netball. They stretched their five-goal lead to eight by half time and had a grand final berth assured with a 10-goal break at the three-quarter time.
“We went in with a game plan, and there were definitely times when we strayed from those plans, but we got the job done,” said Magpies co-coach Jade Heinrich.
“Games aren’t won in the first five minutes, we just concentrated on producing some tough defence and letting Cranbourne know we were there. We built some solid momentum and played some pretty good netball after half time.”
But the Magpies now face clearly the biggest challenge of their three-year journey under the leadership of Jade and her husband Greg.
The Magpies have been the masters of performing at their absolute best on the big stage, thumping Hampton Park 59-34 in the 2015 decider and having a comfortable 44-31 win over Beaconsfield last year.
But this, well this is a different assignment altogether – they won’t be the red-hot favourites this time around!
The Magpies headed into last year’s grand final on the back of the perfect season, and a 20-game winning streak that had clearly defined them as the benchmark team in the competition. But this year they’ve suffered back-to-back losses for the first time over the journey and were dealt a savage blow by the Seagulls in the second semi-final.
Kelly Andrews’s girls came out firing, producing a physicality that led to a commanding 43-28 victory and a direct passage to the only game that truly matters. And it also gave them a 2-1 advantage over the Magpies this year.
Jade knows this is a massive challenge, but is confident her girls are up for the fight.
“They set the tone last time but we learned a lot and we know what Tooradin will throw at us this time around,” Jade said.
“It’s definitely our biggest challenge, but we want the competition to get better and we’re ready to throw everything at this game. If we win, we deserve all the accolades that come our way, and if we lose, so be it. It should be a great game and a huge challenge for both clubs. We’re hungry to take them on again.”
This is a genuine 50-50 contest, where every possession and every sacrifice for a team-mate could make all the difference as to who has their name inscribed on the 2017 premiership cup.
The Seagulls, chasing their first flag since 2006, the Magpies facing the moment of truth that will define them as either a dynasty – or just a very, very good netball team.
Who will win the war of attrition through the midcourt? Will Sara Duncan, Emma Iacovou, Jess Cox and Ebony Dolan be able to sustain their effort over four quarters or will the grand final experience of Clark, Taylor, and gun-defender Tracey Dell, get the Magpies home in a close one?
Questions, questions, questions … and they’ll all be answered by 4pm on Saturday.
Sorry Magpies … it’s the Seagulls turn to fly higher than the rest this season and give club stalwart Shona Wells a long-awaited first A Grade premiership.
And they’ll do it in an overtime thriller!