Last-gasp goal seals success for Queensland Firebirds
THEY trailed for 59 minutes, but two goals inside the final 60 seconds made it a case of third-time lucky for the Queensland Firebirds in a thrilling trans-Tasman ANZ Championship decider against the NSW Swifts.
Runners-up in the past two seasons, the Firebirds trailed by four goals at the start of the final quarter, but hung tough to snatch a thrilling 57-56 victory.
Inspirational captain Laura Geitz had a great battle with Swifts goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites - who finished with 30 goals from 34 attempts - while Firebirds star Romelda Aiken finished with a grand final-record of 47 goals from 51 shots.
A jubilant Geitz said she never lost belief her team could win the game.
"In that last three or four minutes we just knew that we were going to win this. We hadn't gone through the season we had, we haven't gone through two (losing) grand finals without just fighting our absolute guts out, and that's what we did," Geitz said.
"I couldn't be more prouder. That is amazing. That is the best feeling that I've ever had on the netball court."
Firebirds defender Rebecca Bulley became the first player to win three titles with three different teams after also being in the winner's circle with the Swifts in 2008 and Adelaide Thunderbirds in 2013.
The Swifts, who welcomed back captain and midcourt star Kimberlee Green after she had been troubled by a calf problem in recent weeks, made the early running with Thwaites and goal circle partner Susan Pettit on song, and Sharni Layton and Julie Corletto unsettling Aiken and Gretel Tippett at the other end.
NSW led by three goals at the first change and five at half-time, before Firebirds coach Roselee Jenke switched Clare McMeniman to wing defence to try to contain Green and brought on Bulley at the back.
The home side drew within a goal mid-way through the third quarter, but the Swifts - by virtue of their more accurate shooting - took a 45-41 lead into the final quarter.
They maintained that margin through most of the last stanza, but a couple of late misses proved costly as the Firebirds hit the front for the first time in the dying seconds.
Layton, named player of the finals, was left visibly shattered by the loss.
"(I'm) lost for words," she said. "We fought so hard and I'm so proud of the girls. We put everything out there today but we didn't get the result we wanted."
The team to contest the coming World Cup in Australia will be named on Wednesday.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU