Grangetown Netball Club played their first ever game in the top division of English club netball as they hosted the Middlesex-based Academy at Grangetown Youth and Community Centre this afternoon.
For Head Coach Gel Williams and those who have worked tirelessly both on and off the court for so many years, it was the realisation of a dream; but in many respects this is where the hard work really begins as Grangetown seeks to establish itself amongst the top-ten clubs in the country.
Academy travelled north having finished a more than creditable fifth in Prem 1 last season, and would clearly pose a huge challenge to a Grangetown squad that featured a number of additions to the group that lifted the Prem 2 championship earlier this year.
The Ireland international duo of Katie Walton and Gen Slater started at goal keeper and goal defence. Club captain Vicky Rees and her vice-captain Ria Small filled the wing defence and centre positions. Ash Neal, so influential during the promotion campaign, was at wing attack and the attacking partnership comprised last season’s regular goal shooter Abbie LeBrocq alongside Brie Grierson, who played for Grangetown back in 2016/17 and was a member of the Loughborough Lightning 2017/18 Super League squad.
On the bench were defender Jenny Mrozik, teenage shooter Catherine Hewitt, and two new acquisitions; Claudia Heath, who has had Super League experience with both the former Leeds and Northumbria franchises, and Nicole Malloy, who has played in Prem 1 with both Tameside and Oaksway.
The visitor started as follows: GK: Halimat Adio, GD: Vicki Oyesola, WD: Danielle McFarlane, C: Celyn Emanuel, WA: Phoebe Cadogan, GA: Cara Hodgkinson, GS: Rochelle Powell
Brie Grierson scored the game’s opening goal with a long shot from the right-hand side of the circle, but Academy quickly established a lead with an unbroken sequence of five goals. Leading 1-2, Celyn Emmanuel’s high pass into the circle was tipped out of play by Katie Walton, but Rochelle Powell netted from the restart. Grangetown missed two shots on their next attack, and Celyn then produced some neat interplay with Cara Hodgkinson and the goal attack duly extended the lead.
A high feed into Rochelle was safely collected and an excellent long-looping shot made it 1-5. A similar pass from Brie to Abbie LeBrocq wasn’t converted, but an excellent interception by Vicky Rees and some great handling by Brie resulted in a Grangetown goal.
Abbie netted twice to further reduce the arrears, the second goal coming after Katie had made a superb interception. Rochelle then scored for Academy following a well-gathered rebound, and more misses from the home shooters allowed the visitors to extend their lead once again.
A bounce pass by Ash Neal to Ria Small led to a chance for Abbie. The shot was missed, but possession was immediately recovered. Brie moved well to create some space; Ash delivered a perfect pass and Brie converted. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding between the Grangetown attackers resulted in another missed opportunity and Academy quickly took advantage.
Grangetown squandered possession as a misplaced pass bounced out of play, but Katie’s interception reclaimed the ball. Ria found Abbie totally unmarked and the home shooter made no mistake.
Brie scored the next two goals - the second following Grangetown’s best passage of play in the opening period – to level proceedings at 8-8, but a brilliant running interception and one-handed pass by Celyn led to the goal that separated the sides as the hooter sounded.
In what was quite a physical quarter, Grangetown has been guilty of too many errors, but there looked to be signs that the squad was starting to settle into the pace of the game.
Sadly, despite the promise Grangetown had shown in those closing minutes, Academy completely controlled the second quarter and won the period 7-21, to take a commanding 15-30 lead into the break.
After a series of turnovers, Phoebe Cadogan fed Rochelle to score a valuable goal against the Grangetown centre pass. The break was quickly consolidated, and when the home side lost possession from the ensuing centre pass, the Academy attack again made Grangetown pay for the error.
Abbie turned down a shooting chance, choosing to pass to Ash, who in turn fed Brie to get Grangetown back on the scoresheet. A long-range effort from Rochelle made it 9-14; the five-goal lead quickly becoming seven as Academy benefited from a three-second call against Grangetown, followed by a footwork penalty from the hosts’ next possession.
Long-looping feeds into Rochelle were proving a profitable tactic for Academy; the precision of the passing, coupled with the strength and accuracy of the shooter were posing plenty of problems for the Grangetown defence and soon after, Jenny Mrozik was brought on to replace Katie Walton.
More changes followed, with Claudia Heath and Nicole Mallow both coming on for their Grangetown debut. Nicole and Ash produced some neat interplay for last season’s Team Northumbria captain to score, but four more unanswered Academy goals further extended the visitors’ advantage.
Halimat Adio, Vicki Oyesola and Danielle McFarlane were proving to be a tough, uncompromising defensive unit, and Ash was moved to shooter in an attempt to try and regain a foothold in the game. Grangetown were unlucky when Ria’s pass saw Ash sandwiched between the two defenders, but no foul was called and Academy’s quick and precise transition led to another goal.
Nicole was even more unfortunate to be penalised for a replayed ball, after similar-looking incidents had been ignored. Academy found the net from the resulting possession and a fine long shot from Cara completed the first-half scoring.
Academy shuffled their pack at half time with a couple of positional swaps and Razia Quashie and Sophie Nicholas being introduced at goal keeper and wing attack respectively. Likewise, Grangetown swapped things around, with Abbie returning at goal shooter, Ash moving to goal attack and Brie to wing attack.
The opening six goals of the quarter were shared. Grangetown’s approach play looked to have quickened, but the shooting was still inconsistent and Academy were far more clinical under the net, with Rochelle finishing off a lovely move down the left-hand side of the court involving Sophie and Cara.
Cara then got on the scoresheet herself with a goal against the centre pass, and although Ash cancelled out the score, Academy netted again after Claudia was harshly penalised following what looked an excellent interception.
An Academy touch out of play was missed by both umpires and the award of possession to the visitors was met with a mixture of dismay and amusement from the Grangetown players. Academy responded by moving the ball down court and Cara netted with a shot that rolled round the ring, but dropped to make the score 22-38.
An excellent pass into the circle bisected the Grangetown defenders and Rochelle continued her excellent form with another good finish. Ash then drilled a pass to Abbie and the shooter scored at the second attempt as the quarter ended just as it had started, with six shared goals as Academy took a 26-44 lead into the final period.
Vicky and Ash exchanged passes for the Australian to score at the start of the last period, and lovely skill from Brie set up Abbie to find the net. A rare miss from Rochelle followed, but after a flurry of penalties, Academy finally scored at the third attempt.
Sophie produced a fantastic aerial interception to set up another Academy attack, and two more goals brought up the half century for the visitors. An intelligent pass from Brie found Abbie in space and the shooter looked to be growing in confidence as she found the net. Cara then did really well to run round and gather a loose bouncing ball inside the Grangetown circle. Another feed to Rochelle … another goal.
To Grangetown’s credit, they now began to play their best netball of the entire game; a sure sign that the squad will lack nothing in fitness and determination during the season. Long shots from Ash and Abbie were followed by what looked a great interception from Claudia, yet again however, another shrill blast on the whistle denied Grangetown the chance to maintain their momentum.
At 38-58, Ash showed amazing reactions to take a clean catch right in front of her face to turnover possession. Abbie’s subsequent goal was her final contribution, as the teenager Catherine Hewitt was brought on for her first taste of Prem 1 netball.
The game ended with two great goals involving Brie and Ash – surely the combination between the pair will be an important factor throughout the season.
The hooter sounded to bring proceedings to an end, with Academy deservedly running out winners 42-60. Grangetown could have no complaints about the result, but their efforts in the opening, third and final quarters were undone by a second period which was totally dominated by the visitors. Vicki Oyesola and Halimat Adio were particularly influential, especially during that all-important second quarter, but Rochelle Powell’s shooting accuracy allowed Academy to play with real confidence and freedom, and she would be my choice as player of the match.
After the game, I spoke with Vicki Oyesola and Vicky Rees and this is what they had to say; firstly, from the victor’s perspective: “I think it was a really good performance from the team. We didn’t have the strongest start, but we were able to make changes at the right time and we did well for the rest of the game.
“The squad was slightly depleted today, but the players that we had really stepped up to the plate and we managed to get the right result.
“It’s a tough league and there’s such strong competition, but I’m confident we’ll have a good season. This is our longest away trip and it’s good to have been able to come up here, play well, and get that first win.”
And now the Grangetown captain: “Obviously we’re not happy with the second quarter – I think we lost it by something like fourteen goals – but I thought we competed well for the other three quarters.
“I don’t think we can be disappointed overall; we just let ourselves down in that second period. Having said that it’s great to be able to try new combinations; we’re just trying to get used to the pace and flow of Prem 1 netball; and I think there were some positive signs, especially in that final quarter.
“To be able to play our best stuff when we’re exhausted and our concentration’s going is really encouraging; and given this was our first game at this level, I don’t think anyone looked out of place and that’s a really good place for us to be.