Grangetown’s penultimate game and final home fixture of the regular Prem 2 netball season was a crucial encounter against Clan.
With Norwich-based Thoroughbreds already relegated, the teams finishing in eighth and ninth positions will play-off against the second and third-placed sides from Prem 3 to determine in which division each club will be playing in 2016/17. Clan travelled to Middlesbrough from High Wycombe in seventh position, one point and one place ahead of Grangetown; with Premier Romans in ninth spot due to having had five points deducted for conceding a game.
For a time, it looked like Grangetown may suffer a similar fate, after the Youth & Community Centre had to be evacuated following a fire alarm. Thankfully, the situation was resolved and the game eventually got underway fifteen minutes later than scheduled.
The bad news for the home side was the absence of Scottish Thistle Gemma Sole, as unexpected delays on her train journey south prevented her participation in the game. However, Dublin-based defender Gen Slater was able to take her place in the Grangetown squad, with her fellow Australian-born Ireland international team mate Emma Wakefield lining up for Clan.
The visitors’ opening goal was quickly cancelled out by sixteen year-old Tasha Grylls, but Clan produced some superb netball in the opening quarter and quickly opened up a nine-goal lead. Tash Pavelin produced the game’s first interception; the first of several from Clan’s tall and athletic goal defence; and along with Jade Forbes-Wattley at goal keeper, Clan’s commanding defensive pairing made life very hard for the Grangetown shooters.
Grangetown had a reasonable amount of possession, but a combination of misplaced ambitious long passes and missed shots allowed Clan to take control of proceedings. In contrast, both Clan’s shooters were making the most of their opportunities, with Rachel Green converting several impressive long shots. And whilst Grangetown struggled to claim rebounds, Emma Wakefield was twice able to regain the ball after rare misses, and score to maintain Clan’s advantage.
Clan’s attacking play was superbly controlled by Masego Motaung. Lightning quick around the court, her movement and incisive passing was wonderful to watch, and at 2-11, Grangetown were finding it difficult to gain any kind of foothold in the game.
But this Grangetown squad lacks nothing in character and they battled back to score four unanswered goals. Although there was pass pressure right through the court, the home side fought hard to find space and create enough chances for Faye Summerhill and Tasha Grylls to reduce the deficit to five at the end of the first quarter.
Sarah Sainty replaced Tasha at the start of the second period, but the pattern of the game continued, with a number of passing errors from the home side allowing the visitors to stretch their lead into double figures.
Clan produced the best move of the quarter when Masego Motaung threw an excellent long pass to wing attack Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, who instantly fed the ball into the circle for Emma Wakefield to score. At the other end of the court, Jade Forbes-Wattley twice turned over possession with excellent interceptions, whilst for Grangetown, Lesley Mouat also made a couple of telling contributions.
Coach Gel Williams shuffled her pack at half-time, with Vicky Rees moving to centre, Ria Small to wing attack, Marie Ewing to goal attack and Gen Slater being introduced at goal keeper alongside Jenny Mrozik.
There was a slight disagreement over which team had centre pass at the start of the third quarter, and the umpires also felt it necessary to have words with the Grangetown bench and one of the attacking players as tensions began to surface. Both sides were all-too-aware of the importance of the game and it was Gen Slater who brought an element of calm to proceedings, completing four interceptions and two rebounds in her first ten minutes on court.
Grangetown’s experienced mid-court pairing of Ria Small and Vicky Rees took full advantage to create a number of scoring opportunities and, at one stage, the gap was down to just six goals. Out of her usual position, Marie Ewing was working hard to set up Faye Summerhill, but Clan quickly picked up on the hosts’ reliance on their senior shooter. Their defenders allowed Marie the freedom to drop out of circle, but denied the feed into Faye by doubling up their marking; and by the end of the quarter, Clan led by ten goals.
There was plenty of competitive action in both circles during the final fifteen minutes; the respective sets of shooters and defenders were totally committed, even though the result was beyond doubt by this stage. The highlight of a drawn closing period was a cameo at centre by Hannah Raine, another of Grangetown’s outstanding teenage prospects. Hannah’s two interceptions and excellent movement around the court provided ample evidence of her potential, but on the day Grangetown’s best player was Lesley Mouat. One of the finest athletes in the home squad, Lesley is an excellent reader of the game and throughout all four quarters, she distributed the ball well whilst getting a crucial hand to a number of passes to interrupt Clan’s attacking flow.
At the final hooter, Clan deservedly claimed victory and those vital five points; the scoreboard reading 27-37 in their favour. Although there were excellent performances right across the court, the game’s most influential player was undoubtedly Clan’s centre Masego Motaung.
After the game, Clan’s Jade Forbes-Wattley and Katt Ainsworth gave their views on the afternoon’s proceedings and the season in general: “We’ve had a bit of a rocky season,” Jade admitted, “and obviously we’re down near the relegation play-off positions. We’ve had a number of new players joining the club; there are young players as well as older players with plenty of experience in the squad, and I suppose we’ve been through a process of restructuring.
“We’ve had some fantastic games, but then we get patches where we don’t really gel, or play as well as we know we can. Every game, we have spells where we play really well; we just have to transfer those periods to a full game.
“We’re really happy about today. We’re right next to Grangetown in the table, and this was potentially the decider as to see which team went to the play-offs, which was something we were desperate to avoid.”
“Last year we were playing off to go into Prem 1,” Katt continued, “but we had a slightly more experienced squad with a few Super League girls who would play whenever they could. It’s been a big learning curve for us this year, especially for some of the younger girls who maybe haven’t had the chance to play in Prem 1 or Super League. It’s so important for them to take the hits, to play the mental game, and to be able to push on....
“It’s about us cementing our start, which is thankfully what we did today, and being able to maintain that advantage—and in a few games we haven’t quite been able to do that. We’re really proud of the girls today!”
With one game to go, Jade was clearly looking forward to next week’s trip to Bromsgrove in Worcestershire: “Our final game is against Ryland, who are near the top of the table; but we beat them comfortably earlier in the season [55-27] and I have every confidence that we can produce another good performance. We played the league leaders Tameside last week and I was so disappointed, because we matched them for three quarters and we just weren’t quite able to finish off the game in the final quarter; but I am always confident that every game we play, we can nail it!”
“I think this has been a bit of a foundation year,” Katt added, “which is really good; and we’ve definitely seen success over the season in terms of the mental and physical aspects of the game and confidence as well. We’ve built with one another and I think these past few games, we’ve finally hit the level where we should be, and hopefully we can carry this forward into next season.”
The Grangetown perspective came from defender Gen Slater: “I thought we did alright. We had enough turnovers; we just didn’t capitalise on them and get our goals in, which is tough when we’re short on shooters. We definitely missed Gemma [Sole] today.
“Maybe we just lacked a little confidence in our attack. There were times when it was obvious to the defenders where we were going to pass, and we didn’t open up our bodies and see all the options....
“It was good to come up against my Ireland team mate Emma Wakefield today. Growing up I had an identical twin sister who’s a shooter, so we’d always have to play against each other at training. That was quite hard, but what it did was teach me how to play against someone who is a friend. Sometimes knowing someone, and knowing how they play isn’t always an advantage because they know how you play as well, but I enjoyed today and it was lovely to see her. It’s been a while, but it’s always a good battle!”
And how has the Republic of Ireland international enjoyed playing Prem 2 netball? “I’ve absolutely loved it! The girls have been amazing; they’ve been so friendly. I wish I could have come over for a few more training sessions, but hopefully next year I can do that; but I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a much better standard than we can get in Ireland; you can’t replicate that intensity in a full game over there, so it’s been a great experience.”
Player of the Match: Masego Motaung
Grangetown Player of the Match: Lesley Mouat