The Queensland Firebirds finals dream has officially ended after going down to the Collingwood Magpies on Thursday night 59-66.
It was a dramatic affair in the inaugural Pride Match that nearly saw the Firebirds make a late breakthrough, but injuries ultimately took their toll.
The Firebirds were slow starters, trailing at quarter time 13-19 on their home deck. Kim Jenner in particular struggled to get going against opponent Gabby Sinclair, who got off the handle early with five goals, three assists and four feeds.
Despite often finding herself with a mismatch against the significantly shorter Jodi-Ann Ward, Romelda Aiken shot at just 73.3% in the first quarter, not looking quite right.
It would become clear later in the match, as coach Megan Anderson pulled Aiken onto the bench, that the impact of her ankle injury was still being felt.
While it remains to be seen the extent of Aiken’s injury, as she played out the remainder of the last quarter, she joins an ever-growing list of injured troops.
Jemma Mi Mi continued to watch on from the sidelines with a calf issue, while Tara Hinchliffe is having surgery on her injured knee today.
Speaking post-game, coach Megan Anderson touched on the impact that injuries have had on her side both physically and mentally.
“I think the one day turnaround was a little bit too short for us, especially with the injuries and everything we’ve had over the past week,” Anderson said.
“I’m pleased still with the fight that we showed but disappointed that we didn’t put out our best performance for most of the match. If we’d played our best and lost it would have been fine… but I’m really pleased with the fight in the last quarter.”
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Though the effect of injuries was clear, the substitutions Anderson made almost made up for them.
Coming into GA as Gretel Bueta rotated into GS with Aiken off, Tippah Dwan’s impact was immediately felt as she took the court.
Dwan added an extra layer of dynamic movement and positioning outside the goal circle, and neither Jodi-Ann Ward or Geva Mentor could shut her down.
She finished with eight goals, six assists, eight feeds and a gain.
Dwan was a large reason why the delivery to Bueta in the goal circle was so effective. Bueta herself took advantage of her height to outbody Mentor and Ward with easy, occasionally both at once.
The grind of the game was felt on Bueta however, missing Super Shot chances late as the Firebirds fought back hard to stay within grasp of the Magpies.
An 18-15 final quarter, the only quarter the Firebirds won, was ultimately fruitless.
“That continual fight back probably took it out of us,” Anderson said.
“We showed what we can do in the last seven minutes of the game and nearly come away with the win. Six days rest now to turn that around and really finish on a positive note.”
Other strong performers included Lara Dunkley, who seemed to be the only player energised out on the court in the first quarter.
After getting off to a blinder, she finished with 24 feeds, 19 centre pass receives, 12 goal assists and two gains.
Her hard running and creative passing got the better of direct opponent Ash Brazill on multiple occasions, not an easy match up to win.
Typical of the game, Rudi Ellis got off to a slow start but made her presence known in the circle, finishing with seven deflections and an intercept.
With just one game left against the Vixens, Anderson will have the chance to give the likes of Dwan, Gabi Simpson and Ruby Bakewell-Doran more time on the court in what is essentially a dead-rubber affair.
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