The Queensland Firebirds are staring down the barrel of their worst season in 14 years after being handed their sixth straight loss by the Adelaide Thunderbirds. The Firebirds are yet to produce a win this season after having now lost 10 games and drawn two.
The Thunderbirds, however, are taking comfort from their win; believing that their strong finish to the match puts them in good stead to finish the season with three wins, despite knowing that finals are well out of their reach.
The Firebirds started the game with a lot of heart, as they aimed to send long term stars Laura Clemesha and Caitlyn Nevins into retirement with a homecourt win. But the Thunderbirds were not interested in the Firebirds emotional drivers as they took a three-goal lead early in the match after an across circle feed was snaffled by Shamera Sterling.
Despite the game being scrappy in the early minutes, the visitors were the first to settle, as they quite easily maintained their three-goal lead.
The Thunderbirds played a very structured centre pass with Maria Folau taking twice as many centre receives as wing attack Chelsea Pitman. The benefit of this was Pitman was able to blitz Gabi Simpson during the second phase to get into the pocket for the pass and offload to goal shooter Sasha Glasgow who was easily rolling off Clemesha. When the feeds didn’t go to Glasgow, they went to Folau at the top of the circle who hit three-from-three in her long-range sweet spot during the first term.
The break came for the Firebirds off some great defensive work from young centre, Jemma Mi Mi who got a flying deflection in the pocket which was backed up by Clemesha. Mi Mi’s transition into attack was instantaneous as she took the next pass and three others as the ball was labourously worked down court and eventually finished off by Gretel Tippett (her first goal of the game).
The Firebirds were able to level the score in the next play when Tippett got a transverse line deflection which was picked up by Mi Mi and launched into attack.
The scores then rode the centre pass right until the dying moments of the quarter when the Firebirds cleverly ate the time by passing the ball around. With five seconds to go Aiken sank the shot which saw the Firebirds take the bonus point.
With the first centre of the next quarter, the Firebirds took a two-goal lead. The momentum saw them get their tails-up and bring a little razzle-dazzle to the match: Tippett executed two lay-ups and Aiken gave a cheeky sideways-over-the-head pass to Tippett under the post.
But the celebrations were short-lived as Sterling denied them an opportunity to give another quick-flick pass and with the next centre, the scores were locked level again.
The Firebirds had one more moment of minute-momentum where they took the lead, mostly thanks to the mid-court pressure of Simpson and Mi Mi. But the tenacity of the Thunderbirds ensured it only lasted four minutes.
Following a time-out, where Kelly Altmann was substituted in favour of Hannah Petty, the Thunderbirds reentered the game with renewed aggression. Petty was a better physical match for Mi Mi and kept pace with her, effectively nullifying Mi Mi’s earlier impact on the game.
Maisie Nankivell had also entered the game at wing defence for the Thunderbirds and rode every movement of Nevins, ensuring pressure was put onto her passes and her access to circle edge was blocked.
After four unanswered goals, the Firebirds called a time-out and injected youngster Macy Gardner into centre and shifted Mi Mi into wing attack. It paid dividends for the Firebirds as Gardner pocketed a misplaced pass.
It was the only highlight for the Firebirds of the last few minutes of the first half as Aiken got called for a held ball and when the home side defence got hands to deflections, they were knocked into pink hands.
From thereon the Thunderbirds controlled the game as they patiently extended their lead.
In a curious move by the Firebirds, Kim Jenner was benched and Tara Hinchliffe was introduced at goal defence. Jenner is a faster option than Hinchliffe and is presumably a better match for Folau. She was also having a more controlled game than last week, having only notched nine penalties for her half (she gave away 32 penalties in 60 minutes last week). And, despite only having one deflection for her 30 minutes, Jenner was providing extra hands-over pressure for Clemesha but her coach, Roselee Jencke was looking for more.
Hinchliffe reads the play well and is more deliberate, than reactive, in her movements. This is why she finished the game with three gains, one intercept and one rebound, zero turnovers and only nine penalties.
The third quarter was quite scrappy from both sides, with the ball being played back and forth a lot. In one clumsy moment, Petty all but threw herself on the ball and took a Sterling knee to the face for her efforts. Fortunately, it was worth it as Sterling mopped up the ball and it was finished off by Glasgow.
Just as the Firebirds levelled the score and Tippett looked to be controlling things in their attack end the Thunderbirds made a change: introducing Shadine Van Der Merwe in at goal defence.
After the match, Kate Shimmin explained that the move was due to her inability to run with Tippett.
“Shadine was able to keep up with Gret’s more than I could. I am more of an aerial player and a bit more wiry.”
The move was a masterstroke as the visitors pushed out to a seven-goal lead at the three-quarter time break. Van Der Merwe brought hustle to the circle and got clean, outside arm ball and then blocked Tippett as an option in the midcourt which forced passes from Gardner. The desperate pass was easily picked off by Petty.
The Firebirds lost all drive in the last quarter as the Thunderbirds took a vice-like grip on the game and ground all hope away for the home side. Aside from a speccy over-the-top gain by Sterling, the Thunderbirds didn’t win the ball in spectacular fashion. Rather they played patient defence and forced the Firebirds into errors. The Thunderbirds smartly targeted the inexperienced ball carriers on the court, winning five balls from Mi Mi and Gardner
Glasgow was also giving Clemesha a schooling in the last quarter. The goal shoot was a solid option for her side as she potted 15/15. She effectively utilised rolls and drop but also mixed it up by occasionally coming out for the pass to create space for Folau. Her superior positioning also allowed her to take the ball strongly behind Clemesha who graciously admitted after the match that Glasgow got the better of her.
“I think there was a lot more as a defensive group that we could have done. I feel like I got beaten by my player today.”
The Thunderbirds converted 66% of the turnover ball they won in the last term which is what saw them win the quarter six goals and the game by 12.
Adelaide Thunderbirds 71 defeated Queensland Firebirds 59
(15-16, 30-33, 45-51, 59-71)
MVP: Maria Folau (Thunderbirds)
Crowd: 3,877 at the Queensland State Netball Centre
Umpires: Tim Marshall and Georgina Sulley-Beales
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Jemma Mi Mi
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Kim Jenner
GK Laura Clemesha
Changes: Q2 Caitlyn Nevins bench, Jemma Mi Mi WA, Macy Gardner C
Q3 Caitlyn Nevins WA then bench, Jemma Mi Mi C, Macy Gardner bench then WA, Tara Hinchliffe GD, Kim Jenner bench
Q4 Jemma Mi Mi WA, Macy Gardner C
GS Sasha Glasgow
GA Maria Folau
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kelly Altmann
WD Shadine Van Der Merwe
GD Kate Shimmin
GK Shamera Sterling
Changes: Q2 Shadine Van Der Merwe bench, Kelly Altmann bench, Maisie Nankivell WD, Hannah Petty C
Q3 Kate Shimmin bench, Shadine Van Der Merwe WD
Romelda Aiken. 38/39 97%
Gretel Tippett 21/25 84%
Firebirds 59/64 92.2%
Sasha Glasgow. 36/37 97%
Maria Folau 35/38 92%
Thunderbirds 71/75 94.7%
Gretel Tippett 27
Maria Folau. 27
Caitlyn Nevins 16
Shamera Sterling 7
Gabi Simpson 6
Laura Clemesha 3
Tara Hinchliffe 3
Shamera Sterling 19
Kate Shimmin 13
Laura Clemesha 12
WHAT THEY SAID
Kate Shimmin (Adelaide Thunderbirds)
On the turnaround from the 2018 Thunderbirds
“I am just so proud of this club. From the adversities of 2018 to see where we are now and the way we are just building and building to. I am just so proud to be a Thunderbird. It’s a shame we can’t make finals because I feel like we would kill in finals.”
On playing goal defence
“Oh, it is so different aerobically. You need to do some pretty hard work outside the circle to make your goal keeper look good! It was a tough day out there against Gretel. She is a physical beast and an amazing player. She really gave it to me today.”
On being named in the Roses squad for the remainder of 2019 and 2020.
“My mum and dad are both from England so that’s how I am eligible. Your netball career is a short life span and I want to take every opportunity I can to play at the top level for as long as possible and I just thought why not. I will always be grateful for the opportunities that Netball Australia have given me (in the World Youth Cup, Fast5 and with being a Diamonds training partner in 2016/2017). I just want to play as much netball as I can until the very end.”
“I found out a couple of weeks ago and I am not very good at keeping secrets. I am just so excited.”
Laura Clemesha (Firebirds)
On her on-court persona
“There is no other feeling like when you are out on court and the person you become. You don’t get to tap into her anywhere else in life.”
On the future of the Firebirds defensive line
“Tara and Kimmy are going to be phenomenal. They are already amazing and they have been the highlight of my year. Being able to work with them as such a tight little defensive unit and I cannot wait to see where they take the Firebirds defence because it is going to be epic. They are going to be a partnership in the realms of the Geitzy/Clare (Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman) fame.”
On her future outside of netball
“It would be interesting to potentially manage some underage teams in the future. My skills are probably in the managerial area as opposed to coaching.”
“I will be staying in Brisbane to finish my master’s degree (in Organisational Psychology) and from there I will be moving to wherever the job search takes me. I am looking forward to moving around as netball has kept me rooted in Brisbane for a while.”
“I will definitely struggle without the group of hyped girls that is my teammates every day. But I think the structure of fulltime uni will definitely help fill my void in time.”
Caitlyn Nevins (Firebirds)
On the instability of the Firebirds lineup
“If you take a look at us over the season every single week we have had a different 10 so it is hard to build connections and combinations like that I suppose. But this last couple of weeks we have had the same players there so it was a game we thought would win but we are getting there.”
On not getting a lot of minutes in her last home court game
“I have no control over it. It’s entirely up to Rose (Jencke, Firebirds coach). I trust her decisions and she saw an opportunity to peg back the lead so took it. I have to grab the opportunities when they come my way and she can read it from her point of view.”
On still being a part of the Firebirds in some capacity.
“With the Firebirds we talk about our culture and the contributions of the past players. I will become a past player shortly so I will still feel very much a part of this club and the direction of this club. I may not be on court as a player, and I have had no conversations about any other role within the Firebirds, but I still feel very connected with the girls and will be supporting them every step of the way.”
On what’s next for her
“I work part-time as a podiatrist so I am going to keep doing that. I do need to find some other part-time work. I believe it has worked nicely for me to have the dual career. I feel like I am engaged, I have lots of energy in doing the two slightly different roles. I am open to suggestions as to something else to do. I may need to learn new skills but I am just taking it slow and will put a few pieces together after the season.”
On coping with the transition away from netball
“I have dealt with sports psychologists throughout my career. The team psychologists have been helping me prepare this for a while because I flagged at the end of last year that 2019 was going to be my last season. So I have known I was going to retire and have been having those conversations. And, because I am a podiatrist and have skills away from the netball court, it might help my transition, I don’t know. Maybe in a month’s time I may say ‘hey, I need a little help.’ but at the moment I am okay with it.”