Australia kickstarted their Commonwealth Games campaign with an impressive 94-26 win over world number 8, Northern Ireland. A feature of the Australian game was their flawless substitutions, with all twelve players logging court time. Northern Ireland maintained good intensity across all four quarters, but in the end had few answers againt their powerful opposition.
Preliminary Round, Day 1, Pool A, Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Madi Robinson
C Liz Watson
WD Gabi Simpson
GD April Brandley
GK Laura Geitz
Bench: Caitlin Thwaites, Courtney Bruce, Kim Ravaillion, Jo Weston, Steph Wood.
Coach: Lisa Alexander
Q2: Weston (GD)
Q3: Thwaites (GS), Wood (GA), Ravaillion (C), Weston (WD), Brandley (GD), Bruce (GK)
Q4: Watson (WA), Brandley (WD), Weston (GD).
GS Lisa Bowman
GA Kyla Bowman
WA Oonagh McCullough
C Caroline O’Hanlon
WD Fionnuala Toner
GD Noleen Lennon
GK Gemma Lawlor
Bench: Lisa McCaffrey, Michelle Drayne, Michelle Magee, Neamh Woods, Niamh Cooper
Coach: Elaine Rice
Umpires: Maria van der Merwe (RSA), Jono Bredin (NZL), Lisa McPhail (NZL).
Australia looked slick and polished from the start, showing few nerves after the excitement of marching in yesterday’s Opening Ceremony. The connection between Madi Robinson and her shooters was one of the features of the game; the wing attack’s pinpoint passes rarely went astray. With Caitlin Bassett holding a 15cm height advantage over her opponent Gemma Lawlor, time and again she held strongly and dropped into space. Pettitt played her role well, taking the front cut and adding variety to how the ball entered the circle. Her two intercepts were demonstrative of just how effective Australia’s full court defence was.
The Australian midcourt provided a master class in ball movement; their long court conversion was outstanding, and passes generally used the depth and breadth of the court. Liz Watson showed her strength and change of pace in both centre and wing, maintaining her lines of attack and circle edge position. Northern Ireland rotated several players against her in a bid to quell her ascendancy, but Watson monstered them all. Ravaillion was equally as impressive in centre, giving up just one penalty as she controlled the midcourt in the second half.
Northern Ireland’s captain and flagbearer, Caroline O’Hanlon, was dynamic for the visitors. Starting at centre, she had to be shifted into wing attack after both Oonagh McCullough and Michelle Drayne struggled against the smothering wing defence of Gabi Simpson. Neither were convincing in finding circle edge position or getting free of their opponent.
All four Australian defenders were used in various combinations, their height and long reach forcing Northern Ireland’s attacking units into numerous errors. April Brandley was particularly impressive, forcing a number of turnovers, something that has been a work-on for her in recent months. Courtney Bruce, Jo Weston and Laura Geitz all were steady rather than spectacular, but collectively smothered their opposition.
The return of former national captain, Geitz, was a particularly welcome sight on court. After the game she said that she’d been “nervous-excited” about her long-awaited return. “There’s an emotional element to it coming back after having our little boy Barney, so it’s pretty special to step out in the green and gold. I definitely don’t take it for granted that’s for sure. Physically I feel great. I feel refreshed in a way and it’s really great to be back out on court. I’m enjoying playing, and I’m enjoying the opportunity.”
Northern Ireland switched their shooters around trying to make inroads on the scoreboard, but all four were low in both volume and accuracy. In contrast, Caitlin Thwaites and Steph Wood increased Australia’s scoring rate after they entered the game at half time for Australia. Thwaites had a perfect half, shooting 39 goals at 100% accuracy, while Wood’ impeccable timing created moments of brilliance.
While teams could be forgiven for appearing rusty in their opening game, it certainly wasn’t the case for Australia. Their error rate was low (10 turnovers), their long court conversion high, and their transitions immaculate. It bodes well for the reigning Commonwealth and World Champions as they face a long and challenging campaign. Northern Ireland have another tough task ahead of them, taking on world number 5, South Africa, on Day Three.
Australia 94 def Northern Ireland 26
Bassett 31/34 91%
Pettitt 13/13 100%
Thwaites 39/39 100%
Wood 11/15 73%
L Bowman 13/22 59%
K Bowman 3/4 75%
McCullough 6/9 67%
Lennon 4/6 67%
What they said after the game
On how smoothly changes were made
“We’ve been working on our changes, and we’ve had some really good preparation games against Lightning and Firebirds in the last few weeks. We’ve been working on bringing people on part way through quarters, we know that it’s going to take the 12 of us to get the job done.”
Where can you continue to improve
“We have targets we want to hit each game – a few little fumbles or turn of the shoulder, and we want to continue to build that pressure across the four quarters.”
On being part of the team
“This is such a phenomenal team, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be part of it, so I’m happy to play whatever role I need to out there.”
How the team refocused after the Opening Ceremony
“We had a pretty long bus ride back that let us chill out a bit and then a pretty cruisy morning. I’m going to get in trouble for calling them the ‘older room’ but being around those girls that have been through it before helped me relax.”
Team balance in the defence end
“We’re trying to be versatile so all four of us can play two or three positions, and we’ve had a lot of practice matches up on the Sunshine Coast transitioning in and out of those positions. So, we’ve been working on our connections and our unit work and I guess it just showed tonight that we’ve been quite slick in what we were trying to do out there.”4
How did you feel coming back to netball after a break?
“It was more than just excitement. I said to my roomy, Pratley (Susan Pettitt), ‘Are you nervous?’ in the team meeting and she said, ‘Nup’. But I definitely was.”
How is the team looking?
“I think as a team everyone looked in tip top shape. To be honest, Lisa’s got a really tough job, we’ve spoken a lot about it. I honestly think this is the first team that there hasn’t been a clear starting seven. Lisa, as she showed tonight, can put anyone out there and realistically the job can be done, so that’s a very good position to be in, particularly in a tournament like this.”
Is Barney (Laura’s son) old enough to recognise you on the court?
“He did recognise me the other day, which is nice. I don’t know if he’d have the patience to sit through a whole game so he’s not here tonight. Mum and Mark (Gilbride, husband) will bring him to a few games which will be pretty special to see his little face in the crowd.”
Leading by so much, how do you stay motivated?
“We set targets for ourselves, and you could see there was lots of rotation. With every combination that comes on they need to build and connect as well. That keeps it fresh, and the bench is very vocal. There’s so much support when we have the breaks. Every break we say (the score is) 0-0, and we want to push out as solidly as the first one.”
You’ve been starring at WA, how did you feel starting at C?
“I was saying that there’s a LOT of running in centre, because it was quite a high-scoring half. I have played in centre quite a bit previously with Vixens, and wing attack has been a recent change. In the midcourt we all rotate through all positions at training, and any position I’m given it will be great just to be out there.”
What do you think your strengths are within this team?
“In the attack end when it does get a bit frantic, I think I have the element of control and calm, whether we reset the ball, or keep it short and sharp until we find a goaler once they’re free. That’s what a wing attack’s role is, to keep things calm, and set the tone of the attacking end.”
Men’s teams love playing on you and say you’re really tough. What’s your mindset for your conditioning and fitness?
“Playing against the men is great, they have that physical strength, and netball is a non-contact sport but you can see that there’s a lot of contact out there. Every training I’m trying to get stronger and fitter. I guess you need that step-up at this level, and it’s only going to get more throughout the tournament.”
Caroline O’Hanlon, Northern Ireland captain
How do you feel?
“A bit deflated. We probably didn’t perform to our best. It’s disappointing obviously, it’s the opening game, and Australia, world and Comm Games champs, we were aware we were up against it from the outset. They were really sharp tonight – we just have to park that match, and look ahead to South Africa in two days. We’ll go home and prep for that.”
You showed lots of leadership in the way you played. How would you describe your style as a leader?
“Actually in our team we have plenty of leaders all over the court. We go out to do our own job, work hard, set an example, and if everybody does their own job the team will play well.”
There are some very junior players here. How do you encourage them for a big tournament?
“They don’t need much encouragement for a Commonwealth Games! Michelle Magee is probably the youngest at 18 years, but she’s a very mature player. She came on the court and showed no fear, and that’s all we can ask, to go out and enjoy the games!”
You had the honour of carrying the flag in the opening ceremony
“I was overwhelmed yesterday walking into the stadium, it was unbelievable, there was a massive crowd, and it was a really proud moment for me personally, and for netball as a sport to have such a prominent role within the team, to see the value the Northern Ireland puts on netball, it was a really proud moment.”