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Ian Harkin
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Adelaide further enhanced its reputation as a centre of sporting excellence by winning Friday night’s National League grand final. Often dwarfed by the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry and the parochial attitudes of Queensland and Western Australia, Adelaide now boasts an impressive record.

Following last year’s AFL grand final win, plus the 1998 men’s and women’s National Basketball League titles, the Thunderbirds clinched the Commonwealth Bank Trophy 48-42 over the Sydney Swifts in a tough game with overwhelming home-crowd support.

Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald said she felt the Adelaide support long before the players stepped on the court. “I think I was feeling the pressure of playing in Adelaide since I got off the plane over here, and I don’t think we expected it to be quite as intense,” she said. “The whole town’s netball mad, everywhere you went they were telling you that Adelaide was going to win.”

Adelaide’s defensive combination of Sarah Sutter at goalkeeper and captain Kathryn Harby at goal defence was outstanding, cutting off supply to Swifts goal shooter Jo Morgan. They were helped by tireless Thunderbirds centre Rebecca Sanders and wing defence Peta Squire, who was impressive against Swifts captain Catriona Wagg.

Sutter, named player of the match, was clearly delighted with the team result. “The feeling when Kathryn Harby and I looked at each other at the end was huge, it’s just like a dream,” she said.

Thunderbirds goal attack Jacqui Delaney top-scored with 32 goals from 45 attempts and was supported by Cassie Mogg, who shot 16 from 22. Sydney goal attack Catherine Cox was the visitor’s top scorer with 20 from 28, while Morgan made 19 from 27 and Nerida Stewart three in the final term.

In a nervous start for both teams, several passes went astray before the sides settled down, with Adelaide moving to a 13-10 lead at quarter time. The Thunderbirds were up 25-20 at the main break, and a third quarter surge pushed that lead to 10 goals (39-29) at the final change.

The Swifts made sweeping changes in the final quarter, replacing Morgan with Stewart off the bench and centre Karen Miller with Victoria Saywell. Liz Ellis and Alison Williams swapped goal keeper and goal defence tags and the moves allowed Swifts to fight back to within six goals of the lead.

But it was not enough, allowing the Thunderbirds to notch a 6-0 record against the Swifts in the competition’s two year history.

Wagg said it was a tough match but acknowledged that Swifts lost it in the third quarter when they were outscored 14-9. “I don’t know whether it was stamina or we just didn’t want it enough. But we tried really hard and we fought back well in the last quarter and I think we can be proud of that.”

Thunderbirds coach Margaret Angove said her team’s grand final loss to Melbourne Phoenix last year had helped their cause this time. “Last year we were devastated. We were up by 10 and then lost it,” she recalled. “It’s a dreadfully hollow feeling when you lose – you wish you hadn’t played in it at the time. We were pretty well focussed.”

The Thunderbirds were paraded before the 42,000 crowd at the AFL game between Crows and Port Power at Football Park yesterday.