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Ian Harkin
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THE Sydney Swifts will go into the history books as the last Commonwealth Bank Trophy champions. Sparked into action by a superb performance from player-of-the-match Selina Gilsenan, the Swifts drew the curtain on the national league with a convincing 45-37 triumph over the Melbourne Phoenix in Sydney yesterday. The competition is now no more, having been replaced by the Tasman Trophy next year.

Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald, who has been at the helm since the inception of the CBT in 1997, said this premiership meant more to the club than its previous three titles. “To have lost this would have been devastating,” she said. “This is the last one and it is very precious to have. This was our last opportunity to go back-to-back. It has been such a hard year. And knowing it was the last one; there was so much to achieve. This is very special.”

Fitzgerald was disappointed with her side’s nervous start against the Adelaide Thunderbirds on Friday night and the Swifts made sure there was no repeat yesterday. The Swifts’ delivery into the goal circle was precise and with pace, putting the visitors under enormous pressure. After making a statement on the decider with a 16-10 opening quarter, the Swifts refused to relent as they built on their advantage.

The Phoenix had no answers to their opponents, especially in the attack end where the Swifts defence was resolute and physical. Some ordinary umpiring decisions as well as turnovers, mostly the result of opposition pressure, also hampered the Phoenix, who fell behind by 13 goals in the second period.

In a remarkable momentum swing, the Phoenix cut the deficit to just four in the third quarter on the back of eight unanswered goals. That margin should have been even less but goalers Sharelle McMahon and Abby Sargent combined for four successive missed attempts.

The Swifts were not going to let such a gift from the five-times champion slip and they nailed the opening three goals of the final period to again charge clear. “The intensity from both teams in the third quarter was enormous,” Fitzgerald said. “The speed and change of direction was what was getting us over the line and it deserted us a little for that period of time.”