Celtic Dragons recorded their first win of the 2017 Vitality Netball Superleague by demonstrating a new found composure, to beat the Scottish Sirens 55-52. Previously, the Welsh side had started well but typically fell away sharply as games progressed in a series of heavy defeats. In contrast the Scottish team were in good form coming into this fixture winning their two previous games against high flying Surrey Storm and Team Bath. The last meeting between the two sides had resulted in a significant 73-36 loss for the Dragons in Glasgow. All bets were on the Sirens to win comfortably – but what a surprise to be delivered by the dogged Dragons.
A good size crowd gathered at the National Sports Centre of Wales for the game. It was refreshing to see the increase in interest in netball in Cardiff. The Green Army of Welsh fans were a catalyst for the Dragons fine performance, egged on by the league’s most enthusiastic mascot, Dewi the Dragon.
However they were initially silenced by a strong start from the Scots which left the Dragons running hard to hang on to the game. Goal shooter Carla Borrego dominated the attack scoring the first four goals without reply. The Sirens were direct with their play GA, former Silver Fern, Ellen Halpenny and C Caroline O’Hanlon drove clinically through the court to deliver the ball to Borrego. In defence, GK Nicole Aitken-Pinnock was denying space to the Welsh shooters. The Dragons were finding it hard to penetrate through the mid-court to the goal circle, their ball movements were laboured and lateral forcing mistakes which the Sirens ceased upon.
Despite this the Dragons clung on, their shooters, in particular Trinidad and Tobago international, GA Kalifa McCollin demonstrated precise movement and dead-eye shooting whenever an opportunity was presented. At the end of the first quarter the Scots only led by four, 15-11.
The Scots came out firing in the second quarter; deft, quick play by the attack led to a flood of goals for the Sirens, and it looked like all the pre-game predictions were coming true as they increased their lead to nine goals. Then the unfortunate event that changed the momentum – Welsh captain Suzy Drane came out for a centre pass and rolled her ankle. New Zealander Stacey Peters replaced her. Trish Wilcox had already made a change earlier this quarter moving experienced Welsh international defender Kelly Morgan back to GK. These two changes had the effect of pinning Carla Borrego down in the circle and provided a much needed injection of confidence to the Welsh side. The Sirens pass count to goal increased as did their mistakes, which the Dragons slowly started to capitalise on bringing them to within two goals by half time.
The Dragons turned up the pressure after half time. Goal attack Kalifa McCollin ran the show with a master-class display. She demonstrated a full range of court craft; baseline drives, give and go interplays with the mid court, screens for GS Eleanor Roberts and a stupendous split landing to gain ground to the post. Her parents had come from Trinidad to cheer her on in Wales for the first time and what a treat she provided for them. In addition she was not afraid to turn and shoot, with an excellent return of 40 goals from 43 attempts for the match. Spurred on by Kalifa, the Welsh increased in confidence, movements began to flow and the Dragons pushed on to a five-goal lead.
The Sirens were not finished yet though – Borrego and Halpenny demonstrated what a strong combination they are scoring six unanswered goals at the start of the last quarter drawing them level. This was uncharted territory for the Welsh this season, and the defence stepped up as Fern Davies took a telling intercept at the top of the circle. Kyra Jones steadied the Dragons through the midcourt, and aided by WA Bethan Dyke moved the ball with purpose to the shooters. The circle pair McCollin and Roberts kept enough composure to steer the Welsh side home to a 55-52 victory.
Player of the match, Kalifa McCollin commented afterwards saying, “That win meant everything, we played for each other, we got tired of saying we must be consistent and today we pulled it together. We all know what we are capable of it’s about the team – we fought hard”.
Coach Trish Wilcox added, “The girls have fought so hard in every game, we knew there was a performance in there. The green army came out in force, the support was amazing. We worked on being patient, letting it go when it’s on, good defensive pressure when it’s not. Its huge, the girls have kept their belief and this is a massive confidence boast”.
Celtic Dragons 55 def Scottish Sirens 52
Player of the Match: Kalifa McCollin (Dragons)
GS Eleanor Roberts
GA Kalifa McCollin
WA Bethan Dyke
C Kyra Jones
WD Suzy Drane
GD Kelly Morgan
GK Fern Davies
Q2 Kelly Morgan to GK, Fern Davies to GD, WD, Suzy Drane to Bench (injury), WD Stacey Peters
GS Carla Borrego
GA Ellen Halpenny
WA Nicole McCleery
C Caroline O’Hanlon
WD Claire Brownie
GD Emily Nichols
GK Nicole Aitken-Pinnock
Q3 Claire Brownie to GD, Nichols to WD, Q4 Claire Brownie to WD , Nichols to GD
Q4 Fiona Moore-McGrath to WA, Nicole McCleery to bench.
Roberts 15/17 88%
McCollin 40/43 93%
Borrego 42/48 88%
Halpenny 10/15 67%