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Ian Harkin
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The Sunday Age

LAST year’s lost opportunity has become this year’s premiership for the Melbourne Phoenix, who gained their revenge on the Sydney Swifts to claim the Commonwealth Bank Trophy with an emphatic 17-goal victory at Vodafone Arena. The victory last night secured the Phoenix their fifth premiership since the national league began in 1997 and cemented Melbourne’s place as the country’s most successful team.

The final 61-44 scoreline reflected the Phoenix’s second-half domination. Leading by only three goals at half-time, the Phoenix surged in the second half to secure the massive win, the third-biggest margin recorded in a grand final. Last season, the Phoenix led by six goals in the final quarter of the grand final before losing the match by a goal. With the trophy again within their grasp yesterday, there was no final-quarter fade-out.

But last season’s heartache was a moment Phoenix co-captain Eloise Southby-Halbish used at three-quarter-time to inspire her teammates. “It is certainly sweet to win like that,” Southby-Halbish said. “I said that, going into the huddle in the last. I said remember that feeling (from last year), we were up, and I thought it can happen again to us if we didn’t focus on what we had to do and never give up for one second.”

Melbourne had threatened to blow the game open late in the second quarter. After a torrid physical start, the Phoenix gradually wore the Swifts down. They cut supply to Sydney’s goal combination of Catherine Cox and Megan Anderson, and gradually through Ingrid Dick at centre gained control of the midcourt. The margin had increased to six goals shortly before the break and then Sydney called a time-out to steady the ship, and cut the lead to three.

In the third term, Melbourne had all the run. Dick, along with Wendy Jacobsen at wing attack and Natasha Chokljat at wing defence, increased the pressure on the Swifts midcourt, and Southby-Halbish and fellow captain Sharelle McMahon hit all 17 of their attempts for the quarter.

At the other end, Bianca Chatfield was again the general in defence, along with Johannah Curran at goal defence, and they placed massive pressure on Cox and Anderson. The Swifts managed just eight goals from their 13 attempts and Melbourne was on its way to victory.

Swifts captain Liz Ellis said that term had been pivotal to the result. “At half-time we were confident, but the third quarter is so often the championship quarter and we didn’t convert and we didn’t create opportunities. The few we did create we just let go and we had a really poor quarter and you can’t have 15 minutes off with Phoenix.”

For Melbourne it was a premiership that had appeared improbable six weeks ago when the Phoenix were sitting in third place on the ladder behind the then undefeated Swifts and the Adelaide Thunderbirds. But first-year coach Julie Hoornweg was always confident her team would embrace the new game-plan and come through victorious.

“That is sometimes the test of a good team, whether you can come through that. There is just too much athleticism and brilliance in this team to hold them down,” Hoornweg said.