The starting sevens were as follows:
Grangetown: GK Tuaine Keenan, GD Jenny Mrozik, WD Becks Thompson, C Vicky Rees, WA Ria Small, GA Niamh McCall, GS Abbie Le Brocq
Academy: GK Mami Emore, GD Rachel Mulloy, WD Kandis Nelson, C Beth Ecuyer-Dale, WA Darcy Griffin, GA Neala Brennan, GS Philippa Fleming
The sides traded the opening ten goals, before Niamh McCall’s superb long shot was followed up by another goal after Jenny Mrozik had claimed a rebound. However, the visitors then took complete control of proceedings with a run of eight consecutive goals.
The pace and movement of Beth Ecuyer-Dale and Darcy Griffin gave Academy a potent attacking threat and their dynamic partnership was supported by clinical finishing at one end of the court and excellent defence at the other. A run of four successive overthrown passes didn’t help Grangetown’s cause and Academy were deservedly eight goals in front when the first period ended.
Grangetown made changes for tactical and injury reasons, but Academy continued to dominate despite a number of excellent interventions by Tuaine Keenan and the newly-introduced Ireland goal keeper Katie Walton.
Niamh McCall cleverly allowed the ball to bounce right across the circle, before gathering under the net for a simple score, but moments later, Beth Ecuyer-Dyer’s incisive pass through centre court, set up Neala Brennan for another Academy goal.
Both Grangetown’s teenage attackers had court time during the second period, Maria Chambers scored once before an injury timeout saw her replaced by debutante Emily Burnett.
Mami Emore was having a strong game alongside her defensive partner Rachel Mulloy, and the goal keeper produced a fantastic play to parry and catch an attempted Grangetown pass when marking her attacker, but she was unable to prevent Emily Burnett opening her Grangetown account with a shot that found the net just as the half-time hooter sounded.
At 15-31, the result looked like a foregone conclusion, even more so when the influential Katie Walton was forced out of the game early in the third quarter; but once again, the squad’s fitness and resilience were very much in evidence as they started to reduce the 16-goal deficit. The fightback was typified by Becks Thompson, a superb athlete, who never gave the Academy playmaker’s any respite as the fightback grew in momentum.
At the opposite end of the court, Ash Neal injected real energy to the attack, Niamh was starting to gain the upper hand inside the circle; and as the game entered the final 15 minutes, Grangetown had reduced Academy’s advantage by seven goals.
Clearly, the visitors were still strong favourites to secure the win, but Grangetown somehow found the energy and belief to increase the pressure and having looked so assured earlier in the game, Academy started to make errors. Grangetown’s defensive unit was relentless, and the experienced mid-court pairing of Vicky Rees and Ria Small were inspired as they helped to set up chance after chance, which Ash and Niamh gratefully converted.
The noise from the crowd grew with every goal. The gap narrowed to five, to three, to one, and incredibly, Grangetown took the lead, with Niamh producing arguably the play of the game with a goal from a wonderfully-gathered one-handed rebound when both she and the ball looked certain to go out of play.
Academy rallied and claimed a crucial goal against the Grangetown centre pass to edge back in front, but with time running out, Grangetown levelled and had the centre pass…
The ball was fed to Ash, who found Niamh in the perfect position, but before the Strathclyde Sirens Super League shooter had the chance to win a quite extraordinary game, the final hooter sounded.
It was a remarkable finish, but the drama seemed to stun the supporters into silence and it was a good few seconds before the sound of applause filled the hall, as the players shook hands.
It was a game that Academy will feel they had won; but equally, had there been one or two more seconds on the clock, Grangetown would almost certainly have taken the points. What is for certain is that two fine sides produced a spectacle that will live long in the memory; the Academy players for an outstanding first 30 minutes and the Grangetown squad for as dramatic a comeback as you could wish to see.
Players of the match: Grangetown – Niamh McCall; Academy – Beth Ecuyer-Dale