IT TOOK barely the opening chord of Down Under to filter through the Hydro Arena’s gargantuan sound system for Australia’s netballers to commence their own joyous jig.
These “Women At Work” had earned the right to choose the song at their own party and to dance with whatever energy remained. It would, you knew, continue long into the night.
Victory in the Games final over their habitual foes, New Zealand, was an occasion to celebrate and savour. The Diamonds had waited a long time for this, 12 years and counting since they last pulled out a golden run through the Commonwealth competition. In 2006, and again in 2010, their old foes had been the immovable force. Finally, ruthlessly, the Silver Ferns were forced from their throne.
Despite a swathe of injuries, the defending champions would not go quietly into the Glasgow night. They were defeated 58-40 but for the entirety of the first half, steadfast resistance was provided. The Australians, the current world champions, were made to delve into their reserves. Victory, when it did come, was all the sweeter for the efforts expended.
“A Commonwealth Games gold is something I have never achieved and this has been on my bucket list, so to come out and have that performance is very, very satisfying,” said their captain Laura Geitz, one of four among the victors’ crew with two previous silvers to her name.
“For myself, as an individual but also for this team, it’s just an incredible bunch of girls, that have achieved something that no Aussie team has for 12 years by a very, very good margin, so I’m very proud of how the girls played. The Silver Ferns are an incredible opposition, you never ever take them lightly. Even if you’re five goals up you should play as if you’re five goals down.”
And they did, even though the New Zealanders were unable to match the majesty of their recent past, and the intensity with which they prevailed in double overtime in this final four years ago. This remained, however, an exhibition, a showreel to convert the uninitiated with a fluidity and precision that Scotland, who finished ninth, can only dare to dream of.
In a sport where talent is puddle-thin, the Thistles are in a different league playing a different game than that of netball’s Antipodean leviathans. There has been precious little evidence in Glasgow that the gulf has narrowed significantly. Questions should, and will, be asked on what significant investment has delivered beyond self-hype.
The Australians can let their skills sell their abilities. Adorned with size and strength, their assets were fully employed with Caitlin Bassett, their exemplary goal shooter engaged as assassin-in-chief. The 26-year-old, a pivotal figure in the Diamonds’ global conquest of 2011, converted 49 of her 53 shots on goal. Every one turned the screw a little tighter.
Ahead 28-24 at half-time, the Diamonds truly began to sparkle, their smothering defence igniting an attack which could not be contained. New Zealand were held to just eight in the third period, and again in the fourth. Bullets thrown into Bassett inflicted multiple wounds. “Our main game is speed of the ball,” she said. “And our midcourt worked really hard in getting the ball and getting speed on top of the circle. And then when it gets to one on one that’s my job to get the ball.”
As the Aussies rejoiced, their vanquished foes could barely watch. There will be a long flight home to reflect and revise in time for next year’s world championships in Sydney. “It was a hard one, another big task but I definitely thought we were in it just until that last quarter when the Aussies really took over,” New Zealand winger Liana Leota declared.
“They played really smart, they slowed the game down and they played with wit so that our defenders couldn’t hunt as good as they usually do. They played better than us.”
At least they had silver as a consolation prize. England left with nothing but regrets after a 52-48 loss to Jamaica in the bronze play-off. The Sunshine Girls switched their colossus, Romelda Aiken, into attack and she delivered 44 goals as her side held its collective nerve in a frenetic conclusion.
There will, you expect, be a full inquest for the English rather than a simple debrief. If these Games are a benchmark, then they remain short of their goal of providing a counter to netball’s southern axis. “We were afraid to make mistakes and that’s when you start making mistakes,” their captain Jade Clarke stated. “I’m devastated, but the best team won.”