The two sides had finished fourth and fifth respectively last season, with Grangetown winning both fixtures; but in a hard-fought, physical encounter, it was the visitors who deservedly claimed the victory.
It had been a busy few months both on and off the court for Grangetown, with Ash Neal signing for reigning Super League champions Manchester Thunder, and Hannah Raine representing the England under 21 Nets squad in the recent world cup. Away from netball, Ireland defender Katie Walton got married during the summer, and her fellow international defender Genevieve Slater returned to the squad having given birth to a daughter in May.
The only new addition to the Grangetown squad for the opening fixture was Niamh McCall, a teenager who has played Super League for Strathclyde Sirens, as well as being a member of the Scotland squad for July’s World Cup.
The Tameside line-up included Beccy Hoult and Ally Thomas, who both had produced superb performances in last season’s corresponding fixture; and defender Paige Kindred, a former Super League team mate of Ash Neal at Team Northumbria.
The opening six goals were shared with Hannah Raine’s superb pass finding Abbie le Brocq free inside the Tameside circle. Hannah Williams and Ally Thomas combined well to bring the scores level, before Beccy Hoult’s feed to Ally provided the first goal against an opposition centre pass.
The teams then continued to trade goals, but a Grangetown miss was regathered by the visitors’ defence and the subsequent successful shot made it 6-9 to Tameside. Grangetown immediately replied following a Jenny Mrozik rebound, as Hannah Raine’s no-look pass to Ash Neal was bounced back to the Grangetown wing attack, who fed Abbie for the score.
Another incisive pass from Beccy Hoult set up Brogan Slicker, and Tameside extended their lead after Abbie was penalised after gathering a long ball under pressure from two defenders.
Ash Neal then produced the quarter’s best moment when she looked left, but passed right and found Abbie totally unmarked under the net. Ally Thomas netted right on the hooter and Tameside led 13-15 after the first 15 minutes.
The second period started with Ash netting from close range, before Abbie brought the scores level after gathering a rebound from possession gained by Katie Walton’s interception.
Frustratingly, a penalty from the Grangetown centre pass gifted the ball to Tameside, who took full advantage by scoring four unanswered goals. Ash Neal then drew the home side to within one goal by converting her next three shots, despite being put under pressure by a particularly physical visiting defensive unit.
Brogan Slicker was next to find the net, after Ally’s superb movement had attracted the attention of both Grangetown defenders, leaving the goal shooter completely free to continue her excellent scoring run.
Vicky Rees then produced a fantastic interception from a penalty, and her intervention was rewarded with a goal from Ash Neal. However, the Grangetown shooters were then guilty of a number of misses, whilst their Tameside counterparts were almost flawless in the circle and a one-goal lead was soon extended to five.
Whilst Grangetown struggled to cope with the visitors’ defensive intensity, their cause wasn’t helped by a number of poor decisions from the umpires; but the Tameside defenders simply played to the whistle and did a tremendous job of unsettling the home attack.
Tameside took a four-goal lead into half-time and their shooting accuracy was very much the difference between the teams.
Grangetown Head Coach Gel Williams made a number of changes during the interval; Niamh McCall was introduced at wing attack for her debut, Alice Currie replaced Abbie, and Gen Slater came on to partner Jenny Mrozik.
Grangetown started well and quickly halved the arrears, but Tameside showed great composure in creating and converting a number of opportunities. Twice Grangetown were penalised from their centre pass and twice Tameside moved the ball down court for their shooters to convert; and having missed a shot to make it a one-point game, Grangetown suddenly found themselves seven adrift.
The home side rallied and played some of their best netball with Niamh McCall and Ash Neal producing some excellent interplay to set up two quick goals. When Ria Small’s perfectly-weighted long feed found Alice Currie, the deficit was back to two. Ally Thomas was then forced to take a shot from long-range, Gen Slater gathered the rebound from a rare miss, but Grangetown spurned the subsequent opportunity, and it turned out to be a crucial miss as Brogan scored the next three goals to ensure Tameside maintained their four-goal advantage going into the final period.
To an extent the final quarter mirrored the previous 15 minutes as Grangetown kept pressing and fought their way back into the game, only for another vital miss to hand the initiative back to the visitors. The Tameside attacking trio of Hoult, Williams and Thomas were excellent throughout; they were quick around the court, but equally prepared to take their time and wait for the opening; and when the final hooter sounded, the visitors were good value for their 48-54 victory.
From Grangetown’s perspective the result was obviously disappointing, but there was much to enjoy and plenty of encouragement for the season ahead. Ash Neal was Grangetown’s best player on the day, but no one could argue with Ally Thomas being named Player of the Match, and this is what she had to say just a few minutes after the end of the game.
“I think we got the win today because we were patient. We only had eight players in the squad, which isn’t ideal for an away game, but collectively we were patient and we let the ball do the work.
“Some of us have played together for years now; it really works for us, as we know how each other plays, and where we’re going to be around the court…
“It was a physical game; netball always is, and it’s getting more physical and contested every year. It’s part of the game and we just have to get used to it...
“Overall, it’s a great start, but it’s a long season and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll just keep pushing and trying to grind out the wins.
The Grangetown perspective came from Genevieve Slater: “I had a little girl back in May, so it’s probably about eight months since I last played for Grangetown. It’s hard to work on match practice without playing, but we’ve just got to get out on court, work hard and push through.
“It feels so good to be back at Grangetown. The girls here are brilliant and obviously it’s hard for me to get over here [from Dublin] and train with them, but I always get such a lovely welcome when I come over. I think this is my fifth season here, so I’m definitely one of the oldies now; but I love it.
“We are disappointed with the loss. For a team that can’t always train together consistently, we did have some great passages of play; but we just made too many silly mistakes. We’d score a couple of goals on the run but unfortunately we didn’t keep our foot on the pedal when we needed to.”