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18 September 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
A few seconds on the netball court can be an eternity.
During Saturday’s Horsham District A Grade grand final between Laharum and Natimuk United, they were the difference between ecstasy and agony.
The Demons captured their first ever premiership after 64 years in the league with a one-goal victory in extra time that will live on in the minds of all who saw it as a classic.
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Laharum’s struggles against the Ewes in big finals were well documented; the two-time reigning premiers had eliminated the Demons from each of the past four finals series, including grand final wins in 2015 and 2018.
But Laharum coaches Caitlin Story and Erin Mellington were determined this season would be different.
The club’s players spent time during offseason working on their mental fortitude in big moments, and their training was put to the ultimate test in the grand final.
After a neck-and-neck opening quarter that left scores tied at 10 goals apiece, the Demons worked their way to a seven-goal lead through the strong work of defensive duo Rebecca McIntyre and Ema Iredell.
McIntyre had the daunting challenge of matching up on towering Ewe goal shooter Shannon Couch, but was able to keep her in check while Iredell used her athleticism and anticipation to intercept passes.
While it looked as if the Demons would have a chance to establish their dominance, the history between the sides suggested a Natimuk United comeback was inevitable.
And so it proved, as Ewe coach Cheryl Sudholz and Michelle Trigg began to claw the margin back with better feeds to Couch under the ring.
The Ewes stormed back to within a goal at half time, before going on a run of their own to lead by nearly 10 goals in the third quarter.
With more finals heartbreak staring them in the face, it was the Demons’ turn to respond, and respond they did.
Mellington, Zandria Malone and Adele Rohde limited their turnovers through the midcourt and Story and goal attack Maddie Iredell capitalised with six goals each in the third term.
But the Demons still trailed by a goal in the last quarter and, in the frantic final seconds, looked as if they would endure yet another loss.
The team worked the ball to Story, who had been nearly flawless in the term, and she converted a shot from directly in front four seconds before the horn sounded.
With scores knotted at 47, the sides played four minutes each way to determine a winner.
Trigg was confined to the sidelines with an injury early in the extra period, leaving the Ewes with no fit players on the bench and forcing them to reshuffle their line-up.
Candice Muszkieta entered the game at goal attack and made some key shots under pressure, but the Ewes seemed to be battling to stay in the game and trailed by a goal at the change of ends.
Laharum had several opportunities to find a winning goal in the final two minutes but either missed or turned the ball over.
Natimuk United pressed hard, but Ema Iredell intercepted two of Sudholz’s passes in the final two minutes to preserve a narrow lead.
The Ewes worked the ball into Couch for one final shot to tie the scores, but the horn went with the ball still in her hands and delivered an elusive premiership to the Demons.
There was elation from a huge crowd of Laharum supporters that stormed the court after the win.
McIntyre dedicated the win to the late Michele Mibus, a club stalwart who played in five A Grade grand finals without success for the Demons.
Story said it was a victory for all of the Laharum faithful, but especially the players.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if we could turn it around when they were nine or 10 goals up in the third quarter,” she said.
“But the belief from each and every one of the girls to never give up was amazing.
“When it went to extra time, we knew we could do it.
“Since 2015 we’ve been working as a team, and all we’ve ever wanted has been an A Grade premiership.”
Story also praised Ema Iredell, who was named best on court.
“Ema flies out of nowhere and gets all these intercepts across the court, especially when we really need her to do it,” she said.
“It’s a credit to her because she’s the fittest she’s ever been. I wouldn’t want anyone else in goal defence but her.”
Natimuk United’s Sudholz lamented a narrowly missed opportunity for a third straight premiership, but praised her team for fighting to the end.
“The timer just didn’t seem to be on our side,” she said.
“It just goes to show that the game can change in a heartbeat.
“With the injuries we’ve had and going into extra time with nobody left on the bench, we had to use everything we had in ourselves just to keep fighting.
“We did that down to the dying seconds.
“Laharum got theirs today and full credit to them because they played great, but it will make us even hungrier and more determined to get it back next year.”
The entire September 18, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!