THE final round of the season began with a battle between two sides that cannot make finals but left everything out on the court in their last appearances for the year. The Collingwood Magpies got the chocolates in their first meeting this season, but have not won a match since, while the Queensland Firebirds have been in scintillating form in recent weeks. While the Magpies maintained control for much of the match, the Firebirds’ winning ability came to fruition to finish on a high with a tight 65-63 victory.
An even start was quickly changed by new Diamond Kim Jenner, taking a three goal lead although the Collingwood defence looked sharp early too going out hunting. Scrappy play through the midcourt was no issue in the two goal circles, with all four goalers firing early and hitting the scoreboard well. The Firebirds’ ability to not only control possession but also maintain it was critical, with Mahalia Cassidy commanding the ball well and combining seamlessly with Lara Dunkley out the front to find Romelda Aiken and Tippah Dwan with ease. While the Magpies trailed early in the quarter, a great tip and gather from Mel Bragg saw the side work their way back into the contest, with a super shot from Gabby Sinclair seeing the Pies take their first lead of the game.
Excellent pressure and patience from the Firebirds paid dividends, with the battle between Dunkley and Bragg seeing Dunkley come out the better to see the Firebirds take back the lead. It was raining super shots with neither team able to control the play, forced to put up the super shot to take back the lead. Where patience was the name of the game early, a hasty final minute saw the ball ping pong between the two ends and Firebirds holding a narrow one goal lead at the first change.
Rudi Ellis was a good match for Shimona Nelson as the second quarter began, forcing a bit more hesitance on the feds and the shot with her long arms, while Jenner continued to be a nuisance out the front. Continued defensive pressure down the court helped out the Magpies though, with Molly Jovic pressing defensively out in wing attack and seemingly winning the battle against Gabi Simpson during the opening half. Nelson seemed to be having one of her best outings of the season, controlling the ball well and not coughing up as much loose ball as usual in a fantastic first half of the second quarter. The Firebirds attack seemed stagnant, with little flow as Geva Mentor and Tilly Garrett worked their way gradually into the contest and seeing Jemma Mi Mi enter the fray.
Mentor had her eye on the pocket ball, causing all sorts of chaos as the Magpies continued to hold a lead, calling a tactical time out and immediately capitalising as the Firebirds struggled to command the play. A clutch super shot from Aiken saw the Firebirds bite back but Sinclair continued to fire on all cylinders from the two point zone on the return. While the Magpies maintained control for much of the quarter, the Firebirds worked their way back into the contest with the super shots. But it was not enough, seeing the Magpies have the one goal lead at the main break.
An even start to the third quarter saw Mentor and Jenner both come out flying, winning cruces ball back in what continued to be a tight contest. Tara Hinchliffe had a much better start after a quiet start early, finding much easier purchase and forcing Nelson into sloppy positioning. What had been a 5-1 start from the Magpies was fought back by the Firebirds, weaning back control although the Magpies managed to stay one step ahead thanks to the combination between Mentor and Garrett. Sinclair’s quick feeds to Nelson were paying off time and time again, exposing the height difference between Nelson and Hinchliffe and being evasive enough to force Jenner out of the contest. The two wing defenders were standing up, with both Bragg and Simpson doing everything in their power to win ball back with their great read of the play.
A quiet game from Dwan was not what the Firebirds needed when they were trailing by four as the super shot period began, absolutely nullified by Garrett and punished by the Magpies. Aiken’s 7000th national league goal was overshadowed by the Firebirds’ sloppy play out the front, with her fellow Jamaican goaler in Nelson going at 100 per cent at the other end. The confidence on the feed to Nelson continued to be the star of the show, with both Bragg and Garrett getting on the end of the assist stat to lead by four goals at the final change.
Nelson’s sticky fingers continued to find the ball as the two teams entered their respective final quarter of the season, with the two teams going goal for goal early. While the Firebirds got a few straight on the board, the Magpies continued to wrestle back control, applying a heap of pressure to keep both Firebirds goalers away from their confidence zones in the circle. Trailing by two, the Firebirds were playing the hard game to steal momentum and seeing the Magpies call a tactical timeout. The Magpies seemed to drop the ball in attack, with Hinchliffe and Cassidy pairing seamlessly to wreak havoc and Dwan switching on out the front and the Firebirds finally stole back the lead with just under eight minutes on the clock.
Neither side was making it easy for the other to get goals on the board, though it was Sinclair who stood up to put the first super shot on the board to steal back the lead. Nelson’s first miss of the game came at the worst possible time, with the Firebirds biting back to even the margin and then put another single on the board to lead once more. The seesawing affair continued as the Magpies had their opportunities, unable to find the super shot and going down by two goals after a huge battle, 65-63.
Hinchliffe was stellar with six gains (three intercepts) and two pickups, while Jenner was quieter than usual with two intercepts. Cassidy was exceptional through the midcourt, finishing with 26 goal assists from a whopping 51 feeds and a gain, continuously finding Aiken (47 goals from 52 attempts) and Dwan (11 from 14). For the Magpies, Nelson starred with 42 from 43 while Sinclair had one of her best performances with 15 goals (six super shots) and 27 goal assists. Meanwhile, the defensive trio of Bragg, Garrett and Mentor was on fire with 13 gains (eight intercepts) between them.
COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES 18 | 17 | 16 | 12 (63)
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS 19 | 15 | 13 | 18 (65)
GS: Shimona Nelson
GA: Gabby Sinclair
WA: Molly Jovic
C: Tyler Orr
WD: Mel Bragg
GD: Jodi-Ann Ward
GK: Geva Mentor
GS: Romelda Aiken
GA: Tippah Dwan
WA: Lara Dunkley
C: Mahalia Cassidy
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kim Jenner
GK: Tara Hinchliffe