It wasn’t the fairytale ending that the Collingwood Magpies would have been hoping for, as they succumbed to the Queensland Firebirds in a record-breaking win.

From the opening whistle, the Firebirds showed that all sentiment for the Magpies’ retirees was left on the sidelines as Kim Jenner denied Erin Bell her first touch of the ball.

Kim Jenner (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

It took another two minutes for Bell to finally enter the game and get the Magpies’ first goal. She did so in classic Bell fashion: from mid-range and with her recognisable flick of the wrist and follow-through.

Unfortunately, Bell’s last game wasn’t her best performance thanks to Jenner, who was smothering her every move. The Firebirds’ defender took seven intercepts; three deflections and ten centre pass receives earning her Player of the Match honours.

The Firebirds also played a much tidier game across the whole court.

Laura Geitz was off the body a lot more than usual and only earned six contacts for the entire game. Her counterpart, Sharni Layton, had 12 contacts in less court-time.

Caitlin Thwaites (Magpies) and Laura Geitz (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Caitlyn Nevins was putting her hand up for a second MVP performance in as many games. The zippy wing attack was showing confidence in releasing the ball long and high to Romelda Aiken.

Nevins wasn’t bothered by the close attention being paid to her by Ash Brazill, despite coping numerous hard knocks and spending time on the pine. Each time, the wing attack bounced up, shot her opposition a look and kept on running.

The frustration began to show on Brazill’s face as she became less controlled and more vocal toward the end of the game.

The Firebirds soared out to a ten-goal lead less than ten minutes into the game. This was thanks to some strong full-court defensive pressure which forced the Magpies into coach-killer errors, like replay balls, held balls and stepping.

Sharni Layton (Magpies). Photo: Simon Leonard.

To add insult, Aiken was back to her best and she on the move. She probably notched up double her usual steps in this game as ventured out of the circle to open up space for Gretel Tippett or chase down balls.

Aiken’s connection with Tippett was also on-song, but so were her passes to Nevins and Mahalia Cassidy. She even looked like she was having fun as she potted shots from mid-range.

Madi Robinson had a tough game against Gabi Simpson. The Firebird’s captain was riding Robinson’s shadow, forcing her to release quick, and sometimes unbalanced, passes. This resulted in Robinson having the most turnovers of any player on the court, with nine.

Gretel Tippett (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

The Firebirds came out for the second quarter just as strong as the first. The Magpies tried to change things up, introducing Matilda Garrett at GD, and shifting April Brandley back to the GK.

Brandley’s extra height helped stem some of the high passes into Aiken. So, the Firebirds changed to shorter passes and allowed Tippett to shoot an equal number of goals as Aiken for the term.

Garrett put up an admirable fight against Tippett but was outmatched in speed and athleticism.

Kim Ravaillion was injected into the game part way through the second term. Her instructions were clear: target Nevins.

Ravaillion doubled teamed Nevins on the Firebirds’ centre pass, but it was ineffective as Tippett would launch over the line, then flick the ball to Nevins on the second phase. Or, Tippett would despatch a rafter-high ball from the centre straight into Aiken.

The added pressure on Nevins did have an impact in transition. Tippett, forgetting that Nevins was the smallest player on the court, opted to pass high but due to the stifling Magpies’ pressure, the ball sailed over Nevins’ head and into the waiting hands of Ravaillion who was taking up Nevins’ backspace.

The problem then came for the Magpies in their transition. The Firebirds would put up a wall of defence around circle edge. Only occasionally was Bell able to make a strong drive along the baseline.

Erin Bell’s trademark flick. Photo: Simon Leonard.

In her 200th national league game, Caitlin Thwaites used every trick she could. Her roll-and-drop was not as effective as usual thanks to Geitz holding post position. So, Thwaites added more movement but was still forced to shoot longer than is her preference. But, Thwaites being the reliable goaler she is, was still able to sink 30 goals for the game at a range of distances.

Cassidy was having the best game of her season for the Firebirds. In a play which will surely end up on her highlight reel, she gained a deflection on the circle edge as she dived across the circle on her way out of the court, flicking the ball to Geitz in the process.

Caitlin Thwaites shoots in her 200th match. Photo: Simon Leonard.

The third quarter was the Pies best. Their defence line returned to normal and their passes were more free-flowing.

The biggest difference was their use of space. They kept to the corridors when transitioning which allowed them to pass wide. They also began to follow-through and reoffer in attack.

The Firebirds responded by tightening up but were forced into rushed passes by the Pies. Or, they would be thinking about the pass before securely taking the ball, resulting in fumbles.

But the biggest negative for the Firebirds was that Tippett went missing in the third quarter. Brandley stifled her entry in the circle, keeping her away from the post. Tippett only scored one goal in the quarter, two-minutes before three-quarter time.

Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Brandley was also able to minimise Tippett’s ability to dish-off. The goal attack also looked lost and exhausted, as she walked around the court a lot more than usual.

Despite their gain in form, the Magpies were unable to keep it going in the final term. The Firebirds took advantage of this and returned to their blistering best.

In the play of the day, Geitz took an intercept outside of the circle, pitched it to Tippett, who offloaded to Nevins on the edge of the goal third, who then fired it to Aiken under the post.

All the Firebirds defenders took one incept in the term, which were consolidated by their attacking line.

Shae Brown, Sharni Layton and Erin Bell (Magpies). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Five minutes before the end of the game, Shae Brown and Bell were reintroduced.

After the game, Magpies coach, Kristy Keppich-Birrell said, “We had to put them back on the court at the end because they have earned the respect throughout the season, regardless of what the scoreline was.”

Despite the disruption, the pattern of long, high and slick passes kept up for the Firebirds as they marched on to the biggest scoreline of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season.

The win secured the Firebirds third place on the Super Netball ladder, and hosting rights of the minor semi-final. They will face the Sunshine Coast Lightning on Sunday, with the winner to then face off against the loser of the major semi-final.

Ash Brazill (Magpies) and Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds). Photo: Simon Leonard.

Simpson said that this performance was evidence that her side are ready for finals.

“It will be a totally different ball game; there is a lot more pressure on teams. The crowds are also greater. I think we do perform well under pressure as was seen in the past four weeks when our backs were against the wall, and we stepped up. We are ready to go again.”

 

Queensland Firebirds 76 def Collingwood Magpies 44
(21-9, 39-19, 53-35, 76-44)

Player of the Match: Kim Jenner (Firebirds)
Crowd: 4,468 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre

 

Queensland Firebirds
Aiken 52/64 81%
Tippett 24/26 92%
76/90 84%

Collingwood Magpies
Thwaites 30/32 94%
Bell 7/11 64%
Teague-Neeld 7/10 70%
44/53 83%

 

Key Stats

Intercepts
Kim Jenner (Firebirds) 7
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 4
Ash Brazill (Magpies) 4
Sharni Layton (Magpies) 3
Mahalia Cassidy (Firebirds) 3

Penalties
April Brandley (Magpies) 19
Sharni Layton (Magpies) 16
Kim Jenner (Firebirds) 14

Centre Pass Receives
Madi Robinson (Magpies) 25
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds) 19
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 18

 

Starting line ups

Queensland Firebirds
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Kim Jenner
GK Laura Geitz
Changes: None.

Collingwood Magpies
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Shae Brown
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Sharni Layton
Changes: Q2 GK Brandley, GD Garrett, C Ravaillion, GA Teague-Neeld; Q3 GK Layton, GD Brandley; Q4 C Brown, WA Ravaillion, GA Bell.

Umpires: Tara Warner and Bronwen Adams

 

What they said

Kristy Keppich-Birrell, Collingwood Magpies coach

Commiserations on the loss. What do you think changed between the last game and this one?
“They came out firing and just blew us out of the water in that first half, and it was just really hard to come back from that. But, to our credit, we did lift our game in that third quarter, but the deficit was too big to pull back.

“The Firebird’s ball movement and their desperation for the ball in defence is what is so great about them. They went out and had a crack at everything. That sort of pressure puts doubt in the mind of your passer.”

Who is your tip for the grand final?
“I think the Firebirds are the team that has improved the most over the season and I think they are the red-hot team heading into the finals. I know most people would think the Fever are the team to beat. But I think the Firebirds are the ones with the know-how to beat the Fever, so, they are my tip.”

On the retirees
“It has been a pretty emotional week at the club. Shae and Erin are integral parts of the team and their contribution, especially from Shae over the past two years, is immeasurable. And, what Erin has brought this year is that direct honesty and that love of the game. So, I think the loss of them to the game is just as important as Sharni’s, but the public eye is more on Sharni and what she does next.”

Were they brought on in the last five minutes so they could round off their careers?
“Yes. You need to honour those kinds of players. They are the grass-roots of this sport. And, someone like Shae who just loves this sport, may not have all the numbers and accolades next to her name like the others, but what she brings to the team is just amazing. Same with Ez, you know that flick of the wrist, you don’t see that anymore. I think that is a shame. Definitely, we had to put them back on the court at the end because they have earned the respect throughout the season, regardless of what the scoreline was.”

Sharni’s passion is going to be missed.
“Yeah. You will never die wondering what she is feeling. She still loves the game. It is just time for her.”

 

Roselee Jencke, Queensland Firebirds coach

Congratulations on the Firebirds being finals bound. What does this win mean to you?
“Just to finish Round 14 with a really comprehensive win. One where they played sublime netball at times, and to see what they are capable of, is just excellent going into finals.

“It is a plus for us that we have beaten all the teams, so it’s a positive for us. And, it is really good to be able to sit back now and have a wine and see how it unfolds.”

Not taking the full eight points, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
“I was really worried about this game. It was always a hard one for us because we have never beaten the Pies. So, to learn from what we didn’t do well in Tasmania, to step out on court today and play really comprehensive and strong defensive game and a really smart attacking game is pleasing. Our main thing is being better each week, and I would say that during the last four weeks we have been better each week. It is really good to have today’s form going into finals.

“The Magpies played with a lot of emotion today. Their concentration and their thoughts with the retiring players and coach we would have been on their minds. It was a mixed bag as to how they would have presented today. So, we really just had to worry about us.

“Was it our best netball? I would like to think that we have more to come and that we can be better.”

Kristy Keppich-Birrell believes the Firebirds are the team to beat in the finals. Do you agree?
“It’s great of Kristy to say and a nice accolade for our team and I appreciate that. However, when it comes to finals, there won’t be any points to have to worry about. Everyone is even. So, it is about who is going to be best prepared and come and fight on the day.”

Gretel dropped off in that third quarter, and that was the quarter you lost, do you think that’s a coincidence?
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, yes, she only had one from one in that third quarter. However, I think we didn’t step out with the same urgency or intensity at that the start of third quarter. Even me, I was answering questions with Clare (McMeniman) next to me. I would have preferred to not have been obscured by the camera and have full concentration. I think we went away from just doing what we had been doing in the previous two quarters with our defence end. When we got back to applying that pressure, we got back control of the game. The full sixty-minute performance is an area we have to better at.”

Heading into finals, does your mindset shift or stay the same?
“I think we have kept things fairly consistent for the last few weeks. Obviously, what we are doing is working. Defensively, we just need to keep on refining things. We also need to keep Clem (Laura Clemesha), and Tara (Hinchliffe), and Jemma (Mi Mi) included in all we are doing. So, to get a bit of intensity into those three through the week will be important so that we are capable of playing the full ten if need be. The girls who are supporting on the sideline impact us and do an amazing job too. It is going to be a whole team effort of ten-plus to get the win next week.”

 

Gabi Simpson, Queensland Firebirds

The Firebirds are finals bound…
“How good! That game was just so good for us. We came out really strong and dominated. We have been building to that performance, starting from Giants, Fever, Thunderbirds and now here we are.”

It was the Firebirds biggest win of the season and the highest margin in the 2018 season overall; you really put it all out on the court this afternoon.
“We have never beaten Collingwood in this competition, and we love a good challenge. I think that is what really drove us today. As well as finals, but if we simplify and go back to the fact that we have never beaten Collingwood – that put the fire in our bellies.”

Heading to finals, does it help knowing that you have beaten the top teams?
“Yeah. It gives us a lot of confidence to know that we have beaten everyone in this competition now. That was something we were aiming for. Now we know that it is possible because we have done it before. And, now we have got really good momentum and confidence.”

How will the Firebirds handle the travel, particularly if you have another long haul to Perth?
“We have been over to Perth, and we have beaten them on the road which gives us a lot of confidence. But, for us, we need to be in our bubble. No matter where we are, we need to bring our confidence on the court and really working off each other and creating our own vibe. If we are able to do that, the crowd shouldn’t have an impact.”

What do you think was the turning point for the Firebirds over the past four weeks?
“I think it was that vibe that we have on court. I guess, earlier in the season when we had a hard patch we would disconnect. Now we are starting to see that any time it is hard, we rally together and take another step up. I think that is something special about our spirit.”

It must be good knowing that you do still have things to improve given that third-quarter drop
“Absolutely. With momentum it is fantastic, but it counts for nothing if we don’t put out a good performance starting with the finals.”

All the flicks of the ball in the first half, was that from the handball you have been doing at training?
“I will tell Callum, our Performance Manager, that you said that. That’s a really good point. But, seriously, I think it is important that we are backing each other up. After that we are flicking it and hoping for the best.”

On the emotions of the retirees in today’s game
“Sharni has been an absolute stalwart of netball. She has taken netball to a whole other level with her game on the court, her energy and passion she has for the game but also off the court. She has taken netball to places it has not been before. Past the netball fan realm. She has done such a great job for netball, and it is really sad to see her go. But it was great for the crowd to send her off in such an epic way.”

 

 

Report: Katrina Nissen
Photos: Simon Leonard

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