Super subs shine as Diamonds dig deep for Gold

IT WAS a history-making night for Australian netball as the world number one Diamonds clinched Commonwealth Gold by turning the tables on a brave Jamaican outfit by just four goals. In what was to become their nation’s 1000th Gold Medal at a Commonwealth Games, Australia also became the first nation to win the Gold after losing a group match. Though that loss – a two-goal defeat to the Sunshine Girls – was played out eerily similar to the final, it had a different ending, and one that Diamonds fans are likely to never forget.

JAMAICA 12 | 17 | 10 | 12 (51)
AUSTRALIA 14 | 15 | 16 | 10 (55)

Regardless of what happened at The NEC Arena, there was always going to be history made. The Jamaicans reached the Gold Medal final off the back of their best ever international campaign, defeating Australia in the group stage, and then destroying New Zealand to earn a spot in the final, and deservingly as favourites. The Diamonds had put the heartbreaking two-goal loss to the Sunshine Girls behind them with a commanding victory over home nation England, a result that had the majority of the crowd backing the Jamaicans in the decider. In the end though, it was a combination of some outstanding individual efforts, savvy substitutions and being able to learn from the group loss that saw the Australians home.

Australia went in with the same lineup that it took into the semi-final, with Gretel Bueta and Steph Wood in the attacking goal circle against the red-hot Shamera Sterling, and Latanya Wilson. Up the other end, scoring machine Jhaniele Fowler and her chosen partner-in-crime Shanice Beckford would look to continue to do what they had done all tournament, with Courtney Bruce and Jo Weston their opponents once again. In the midcourt, the Vixens duo of Kate Moloney and Liz Watson, and the high-energy Ash Brazill rounded out the starting seven. for the Jamaicans, it was Brazill’s Collingwood Magpies teammate Jodi-Ann Ward – one of the stars of the tournament thus far – that would have the job of trying to shut Watson down, while Nicole Dixon-Rochester and Khadijah Williams would be the ones providing the drive to the shooters.

Wood scored the first goal of the match, and then the teams traded blows with Bueta and Fowler looking dangerous up their respective ends. Three consecutive goals to Bueta in the middle of the opening term handed Australia that little buffer, and when the Diamonds shooting duo put up four consecutive goals, they were up by six (13-7) with three minutes on the clock. As has so often being the case, a forced turnover lead to Fowler taking full advantage, and the Jamaicans scored five of the last six goals to cut the deficit to two at quarter time.

Straight out of the blocks in the second, the Jamaicans got the jump with Beckford surprisingly taking the lead, scoring her nation’s first three goals of the quarter as Fowler missed her first shot for the day. Jamaican drew level with the Australians, and then Fowler and Beckford’s pairing was starting to get on top of the Diamonds. Five and a half minutes into the second term, Australian coach Stacey Marinkovich opted to bring on Sarah Klau for Weston, giving the NSW Swifts defender the opportunity to nullify Fowler in the biggest game of Klau’s career, while Bruce moved into goal defence to provide more defensive pressure up the court.

Though the Sunshine Girls did get out to a four-goal lead, Marinkovich had another ace up her sleeve. A minute later, she replaced Wood with the taller Cara Koenen to stretch the Jamaican defensive pairing of Sterling and Wilson so the former did not have the height advantage when coming across to tip or intercept. That proved a masterstroke and Koenen scored on her first chance of asking, and both her and Bueta piled on six of the next seven goals for the Diamonds to hit the front. The teams would effectively trade blows right up until half-time, with a Fowler goal in the final five seconds levelling the scores at 29-apiece.

Gretel Bueta
Gretel Bueta was sensational in the shooting circle | Image credit: Getty Images

Then came the ‘blink and you miss it’ moment. In the blink of an eye – or just under four minutes to be exact – Bueta and Koenen had slammed on seven consecutive goals and the lead was 36-29 with the crowd a little shellshocked at what was unfolding. Fowler tried to steady for the Sunshine Girls, but another turnover and the Australians added three more goals, and suddenly the lead was out to nine. Feeling the match – and subsequent Gold Medal – was slipping away from her side, Connie Francis pulled the trigger on the wing attack bib. With Brazill completely nullifying Williams, the Jamaican mastermind chose to bring on the spark of Adean Thomas.

Thomas immediately provided a goal assist to Fowler and looked more energetic and damaging around the circle edge. However there were problems in the circle, as Beckford looked uncomfortable having taken a knock earlier in the game, and was also devoid of confidence from a player that took it upon herself to get her team going in the second quarter. The feeds into Fowler had been interrupted by Klau’s tenacity, while Bueta and Koenen were just not missing for the Diamonds. Scoring five of the last six goals of the third term, Fowler cut the deficit to six at the last change.

At the three quarter time huddles, the body language of both nations could not be more different. Australia looked up and about, while Jamaica looked deflated. Fowler willed her team to make one last 15-minute effort, after all they had come from that exact margin down – six goals – in the group stage to win the match by keeping the Diamonds to just nine goals in the final term. It was heart-in-mouth stuff for fans of both sides, as the opening couple of minutes saw a number of turnovers and both sides looking nervous. Eventually the Jamaicans settled better and began to give Diamonds fans cause for concern.

Sterling, who had her hands full against Koenen, was starting to interrupt the defence, while Thomas and Dixon-Rochester were pumping the ball in high to Fowler in front for her to out-body Klau. A couple of calls went against Jamaica early and the Australians lead by seven goals, but then two turnovers to the Sunshine Girls results in four consecutive goals to Jamaica, and the margin was just three goals midway through the term. All of a sudden, the mood in the NEC Arena had changed, and the crowd was trying to will the Jamaicans home. Australia’s fast-moving midcourt had stopped, with Watson and Moloney far more hesitant, wasting a minute passing around the circle edge before another turnover.

Faced with the opportunity of cutting the deficit down even more, the Sunshine Girls made a mistake, and Australia steadied again, scoring five of the next six goals to be back out to a 53-46 lead. A turnover in defence off the hand of Klau lead to Sterling powering the ball down the court and Fowler scoring to close the gap to five again, but just when Jamaica had the centre pass, the Sunshine Girls critically turned it over and Bueta made no mistake with back-to-back goals and Australia was seven up with two minutes to play.

Knowing it would be near-impossible to make three turnovers in two minutes, the winning feeling began to sink in for Australia. Fowler continued to press, with one of the three Jamaican turnovers leading to the final three goals of the match going the way of the high-volume shooter. But unfortunately for her nation, it would not be enough, falling short by four goals, 51-55. The burst straight out of half-time, the impact of super subs Klau and Koenen, the unmissable Bueta and tenacious Brazill had quelled the Jamaicans that looked so ominous for most of the tournament. In winning the Gold Medal, Australia made history and reclaimed its place on top of the netball world.

Cara Koenen, Gretel Bueta and Steph Wood celebrate Australia’s Gold Medal victory over the final buzzer | Image credit: Getty Images

Bueta (37 goals) and Klau (15) did not miss for the entirety of the match, as Klau came on to have three deflections and interrupt Fowler’s regular dominance of just about everybody. Brazill was incredible, picking up three gains, five deflections and an intercept to send Williams to the bench and frustrate Beckford. Watson set up 24 goals, had two gains and one intercept, while Moloney had 13 goal assists and two gains.

For the Jamaicans, Fowler could not have done much more when presented with the opportunities, putting up 46 goals from 47 attempts, while Beckford nailed all five attempts and provided Fowler with 15 goal assists. Dixon-Rochester helped herself to 20 goal assists from 24 feeds, a gain and an intercept, while Sterling had her moments early and late after being nullified in the middle, picking up two gains, two deflections and one intercept. Wilson also had nine deflections and three gains in a hard-working performance.

There was so much history made at the Commonwealth Games, but in the end, the world number ones had reclaimed the Gold Medal that they had fallen one goal short of in not just the previous Games, but the World Cup. A different match, a different opponent, and this time, a different result, with the green and gold going home with the latter after producing the performance of their lives when it mattered the most.

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