Poole sat in fourth position behind unbeaten league leaders Sussex Thunder, just two places ahead of Grangetown whose record of two victories and three defeats included two single-point reverses in their most recent outings.
Both sides were without a couple of regular players, but Grangetown welcomed back the Leinster and Ireland international defender Gen Slater, who was able to link up with Katie Walton for the first time since the pair had represented Ireland with such distinction at the recent Nations Cup in Singapore.
The home side got off to an excellent start, with Brie Grierson opening the scoring after just fifteen seconds. An early Poole miss was collected by Katie Walton, the first of a number of telling contributions from the Grangetown goal keeper. Abbie Le Brocq converted the turnover possession before netting two more quick goals, the second from a fine piece of skill from Brie Grierson who threw a blind pass to her team mate whilst looking in the opposite direction.
Poole levelled the scores at 4-4, but Abbie Le Brocq made full use of her height to edge Grangetown back in front—and it was a lead they would never relinquish.
Grangetown continued to play well and the homes side’s best move of the opening period came when Ria Small looped a pass into the circle and instead of catching the ball, Brie Grierson cleverly tapped the ball straight into the arms of her shooting partner.
There was a frantic passage of play when Poole overthrew a centre pass, but recovered possession courtesy of an interception from goal keeper Jessica Dale. Gen Slater then reclaimed the ball, only for Poole’s goal attack to produce an interception of her own. The Australian-born Ireland international looked to have produced an even better steal, but a penalty was called and Poole duly added to their score.
The quarter ended with another lovely pass from Poole’s consistently influential centre Tallisa Haynes, and the ensuing goal reduced the deficit to five, with Grangetown leading 13-8.
The early exchanges of the second period saw Grangetown double their advantage, with teenager Tasha Grylls impressing in an unaccustomed wing attack role. Her passes set up three of the first four goals, and with shooter Abbie Le Brocq enjoying a productive afternoon, the Grangetown defenders were in fine individual and collective form.
Club captain Vicky Rees led by example and had a superb game at wing defence; and the Ireland pairing of Katie Walton and Gen Slater were at their dominant best, although some of their work was rather less than appreciated by the officials. On two occasions, Katie reacted quickly to be first to feeds into the circle, but was penalised both times, the latter resulting in a caution for “persistent contact”.
Twelve goals to the good at half time, head coach Gel Williams swapped Brie Grierson and Tasha Grylls, and Brie had a significant impact on the third quarter; her speed of hand and thought being readily acknowledged by the visiting coaching team after the match.
The average age of the Grangetown attacking trio was less than nineteen, and the pivotal link between the experienced defence and the exciting prospects at the attacking end of the court was provided by Ria Small, whose passing and movement were superb throughout the sixty minutes.
The game was still being played at quite a high tempo in the third quarter, but mistakes started creeping into both sides’ play. It was the visitors who were quicker to regain their composure and Poole ended the quarter by scoring five of the last six goals, although Grangetown held a decisive 39-26 lead with just fifteen minutes remaining.
Both goal keepers were very much to the fore in the closing period; Katie Walton collecting two more rebounds, whilst Jessica Dale capped a strong performance with four further interceptions. To their credit Poole continued to work the ball well down the court and scored three unanswered goals as the game entered its closing moments.
Perhaps fittingly though, the hooter sounded just as Abbie Le Brocq netted to take Grangetown to their half century; the final score being 50-32 in favour of the hosts.
For Grangetown’s goal defence Gen Slater, it had been a satisfying return to Teesside: “I thought it was a good game; we came out firing from the start, and it was nice to be up by five at the end of that first quarter. This is my first game of the season back at Grangetown and there are a lot of new faces; not so much in defence, but certainly in attack we’ve got a lot of young girls, which is really good to see.
“The quick passing was a feature of our attack. Brie was excellent; she was releasing the ball as soon as she got it, and that will always beat the defender. Abbie was amazing too; I gather she’s working really hard in training, and she’s only going to get stronger and stronger. I thought Kate [Hill] did brilliantly in the last quarter. It’s not easy to come on at centre late on in the game, but she did really well.
“Obviously, we’ve got a few things to work on, and we can’t afford to have lapses of two or three minutes in a quarter. We need to be strong for the full fifteen minutes, but overall this was a good team performance and a great result.”
Gen was also delighted to be back on court with her Ireland defensive partner Katie Walton: “It was brilliant. We haven’t played together since September, but I love playing alongside her; she’s a really good talker, and I thought the partnership worked just like it did in Singapore. I love playing with Vicky as well; she runs all over the place and just doesn’t stop, so even though it was my first game back, it felt comfortable. I know the combination could work even better if we were training together and practising things; but we had a set play for bringing the ball out of defence from our baseline throw-ins which worked really well.
“Also, they swapped their goal attack during the game which is good, because it means we’re doing our job as a defensive unit. It took a couple of minutes to adjust to the change because she was much taller; but we sorted it out and did the job—so I’m happy!”
For Poole coach Hayley Peyman, it was a rare loss, but a chance to reflect on just how far the club had progressed.
“We had two key players missing today; our wing attack tore her quad training with Surrey Storm and one other was unavailable. We had to play a few players out position which left us with weaknesses in certain areas and Grangetown certainly punished those weaknesses.
“I thought their defenders were incredibly physical; I don’t think we’ve ever faced a defence as physical as that. And the goal attack [Brie Grierson] was outstanding; she was the absolute game-maker.
“When we’re at full strength, we’re definitely capable of challenging the clubs in this division, but given the standard of the Grangetown squad and the fact that we had no fresh players to bring on, I think they were always going to win today—I just didn’t expect the gap to be that wide.
“We honestly didn’t envisage that we’d be playing at this level quite so soon. We were actually looking towards the Premier League in around five years’ time, but the girls just kept on winning!
“It is quite tough at the moment because we don’t have a big squad, but we’ve got a good structure at the club; and some excellent youngsters coming through. My squad that went off to Uni should be back next year and the juniors on the talent pathway will also feed into the squad; so if we can consolidate our position this season, hopefully we’ll have a bright future.”
The result has lifted Grangetown into fourth position, with Pool two places, but just one point adrift. Only four points separates second and seventh in the league, and in what is clearly a hugely competitive division, both Grangetown and Poole face some crucial games before they renew rivalries in Dorset on 5 March.
Mizuno Player of the Match – Brie Grierson
My Players of the Match (because it's my report!) – Katie Walton (Grangetown) and Tallisa Haynes (Poole)