Grand Final day gave us a bit of everything. We had sunshine interspersed with driving rain and biting cold winds. We had desperate defence and brilliant shooting. And on a day dominated by the uniforms of Dingley and Heatherton, we had two new teams admitted to the premiers club for the first time. It was a fitting way to end what was one of the finest seasons in the SFNL’s short history.
Dingley and Heatherton Black faced off in what was the fifth Division 1 Grand Final between these two colossuses in the competition’s six-year history. Dingley will have felt that they needed to start the match well to be a chance of success. Therefore a 10-1 deficit half way through the first quarter will have left them with sweaty palms and lumps in throats. Rahni Samason in particular was on fire early in the match, and with Nat Billings coming into the game as the quarter wore on the Dingoes had plenty of problems. However, they started to mount a comeback. The excellent Chloe Sinclair began intercepting well, and Sara Merkus began getting her hands on the ball more often at wing defence, and used it efficiently to feed her goalers. Dingley probably didn’t want quarter time to come around, as they would have felt that they were quickly hauling in their 15-12 deficit.
The second quarter began as the first had ended, with the game very competitive and neither side able to make a clear break. That all ended when Heatherton flicked the switch with four minutes left, and this was the turning point in the match. A slender three-goal lead became a decisive 28-20 half time advantage almost in the blink of an eye as the Mifsud sisters took complete control in mid-court and the height and movement of Samason and Billings left Dingley with no way of stopping the onslaught. Dingley brought Brittany Goldsmith in to counter the height of the Heatherton shooters, and Shae Wonnacott to provide extra run in the third quarter, but it was to no avail as Heatherton began as they had left off, their shooting complimented by Bayley Mifsud’s rapier-like passing while Alicia Wise, Taylah Fiddes and Bridgette Furphy ploughed lone furrows in attempting to get Dingley back into the game. At 46-30 the Tunners knew the game was in their keeping at three-quarter time, and were able to throw their team around positionally and also withstand a late Dingley flurry before closing out a convincing 59-40 victory.
This gave Heatherton back-to-back premierships, and levelled the score at three each with Dingley in terms of premiership wins. Rahni Samason was able to celebrate not only lifting the premiership cup with co-captain Zali Mifsud, but also winning the medal for best on court.
Heatherton entered the Division 2 Grand Final against surprise packets Caulfield knowing that they faced the pressure of taking in an unbeaten record against an opponent with nothing to lose. However, nothing went right for the challengers early on as Heatherton, with Sophie Bartlett unstoppable, landed the first ten goals of the match. At the other end Courtney Weiske proved an impregnable force, pulling in intercept after intercept as Caulfield could make no impression. The Lady Bears steadied late in the quarter to go in down by 18-6, and coach Sue Kimber told them that they hadn’t done a lot wrong, and would work back into the match. This had an immediate effect on her charges, in particular centre Brodie Aumont who put in a virtuoso performance, completely running the mid-court in the second quarter. The shots began to drop for Caitlyn Ashby and Hannah Shilling, and at 21-14 at half time the game was back on.
Heatherton held their nerve however. Weiske, who had sat out the second term, and Kirsty Mann took back defensive control, and Sophie Bartlett had yet another purple patch, netting all but one of Heatherton’s goals for the third term as her side regrouped to take a 32-16 lead into the final stanza. They felt that if they could weather the early storm then the final few minutes would be a relaxed affair, and so it proved with Bartlett extending her personal tally to 39, Weiske continuing her fine match to claim the best-on-court medal, and Heatherton coasting to their second division two premiership running by winning by 48-22.
Keysborough’s Division 3 side had provided the fairy tale of the finals series, coming from the clouds to snatch fourth spot and then winning both sudden-death finals to gain a berth in the decider. They faced a Dingley side stung by defeat in the last two Grand Finals at this level and aching for redemption. This was a game in which Keysborough all but matched their opponents right the way through, but Dingley were able to win each of the first three quarters by two goals to lead 27-21 at the last change. For all the brilliance of Bianca Robinson and Chelsea Rowe in attack, and the two Viecelis around the court, the Dingley mid-court triumvirate of Erin Gold, Rachael Martin and Sophie Virtue proved a little too strong in conditions which progressed in the second half from wet to wetter. Laura Kilfoyle was a worthy medal winner as Dingley’s defensive rock, as this proved to be a game too far for the gallant Keysborough outfit. Dingley were able to close out a 39-28 Grand Final win.
Dingley Gold played Heatherton White in the Division 4 decider knowing that they’d had the wood on their Heatherton opponents in both matches this season, and also that Heatherton had needed extra time to get to the last day of the season. It’s with this in mind that they hit a wet court with confidence. Dingley established an early break with star goaler Bianca Waras-Carstensen again prominent, and while the margin never seemed insurmountable for the black and whites, Dingley were always in control of the game. Heatherton did not give up the ghost at any stage, with the efforts of Haylie McCluskey particularly strong in the mid-court, justifiably earning her the medal for best-on-court. However, as strongly as they attacked Heatherton were unable to rack up a winning score against the strong Dingley defensive pairing of Darcie Price and Shannon Bailey, and a scoreline of 36-25 was indicative of Dingley’s superiority as they became Division 4 champions.
Caulfield had taken all before them in Division 5, but a loss to Dingley in the Qualifying Final meant that they needed to get to the Grand Final the hard way, beating Lyndhurst in a cliff-hanger to do so. But Caulfield were to ensure that there were no such problems on this day with as comprehensive a Grand Final win as you are likely to see. Caulfield were dominant from the start, taking a 12-5 lead out of the first term, and they went on to win every quarter. Fans were treated to a brilliant solo performance from Caulfield shooter Jodie Brown, who took 46 goals from the game, including Caulfield’s entire first half tally of 26, to be crowned best on court. Despite the best efforts of a brave Dingley side, with Anna Lewton and Samantha Barwick working especially hard in the mid-court, they were to find no answers to a brilliant Caulfield performance as the Mumma Bears took the cup, winning by 53-26.
Division 6 saw the third Dingley/Heatherton pairing of the day, as Dingley Red took on their Heatherton opponents on a slippery court 10. This one was a great match. Dingley started the stronger, although they were not able to establish a big lead over their old foes in leading 8-6 at quarter time, and 15-13 at the long break. It was after half time that the tide began to turn however. Heatherton’s Tegan Matthews-Ritchie, who was excellent all day, continued to work hard at goal attack and shooter Kirah Hard began to find her range, whilst at the other end of the court goal defence Annalise Flarve continued to quell the threat posed by Felicity Evans and Kellie Murphy in a best-on-court performance. Heatherton took the lead mid way through the third quarter and held it until the break, keeping Dingley to just two goals for the term to lead 21-17 turning for home. Heatherton’s hard-working defence continued to repel Dingley’s desperate attacks, and their shooters ensured there would be no comeback this time, delivering the premiership to Heatherton with a 32-24 win.
Dingley’s regular season dominance had been overturned by their nearest challengers Oakleigh District in the first week of the Division 7 finals, but the Dingoes felt, after a dominant Preliminary Final win, that they had the goods to triumph when it mattered. Nobody told the Oakleigh girls that, however, and although Dingley appeared to settle the quicker Oakleigh quickly found their level to only trail 7-6 at quarter time. It was the second quarter in which Oakleigh took the lead that they were not to surrender for the rest of the day. With Amanda Robert a handful for Dingley defender Amie Taylor and Limor Reiss doing a fine job for Oakleigh in defence, Oakleigh were able to lead by 14-12 at half time. Oakleigh’s coach Mel Aitken then pulled the master stroke of putting Amy Rockman into goal attack in the second half. She was to shoot effectively and accurately for her team as they extended their lead to 20-16 at the final change, and while Dingley mounted a spirited comeback and looked like they could snatch victory at the end, it was Oakleigh that stood up, with medal winner Nicole Hill controlling the centre and Rockman landing a pair of clutch goals at the end to give their club their first SFNL premiership, winning by 23-21.
Keysborough came into the Division 8 decider unbeaten, while their opponents Mordialloc had tasted defeat only at the hands of their opponents. Sadly for Mordialloc, they found the Keysborough girls at the top of their game and never really looked like breaking the spell that the Burras held over them. Straight away leading shooter Rebecca Mastroianni took control of the game, shooting 11 of her 36 goals in the first term as Keysborough cleared out to a 13-6 lead. The second term was far more even, and at 21-14 at half time the ladies in red will have felt that they were still well in the match. It was the third quarter however in which the game was put to bed, as Mastroianni, an obvious best on court, netted all of Keysborough’s 14 goals while the defence kept Mordialloc to just five of their own. A 16-goal three quarter time lead was never likely to be caught, and though Mordi worked hard to arrest the decline they could only get as close as 39-28, to give Keysborough their first netball silverware since coming into the SFNL.
The Cut and Drive congratulates not only the premiership winners, but all players and coaches on a fine 2017 season. We look forward to the resumption of battles in 2018.