NORTH Warrnambool Eagles’ 45-44 preliminary final win on Saturday will go down in history for two reasons.
One, it’s the farthest the club has gone in a season since joining the Hampden league 17 years ago.
Two, it’s the first time the Eagles have beaten Camperdown.
Emotions were running high at Reid Oval on Saturday as the young Eagles won their way through in the one-goal thriller.
The Eagles led by at least two goals for most of the match, but a resurgent Magpies outfit brought the game back within their grasp, levelling the scores with just a minute remaining on the clock.
With time ticking away, the Eagles answered back.
The final centre pass of the day was Camperdown’s, but Eagles goal defence Rachael Ryan took a vital intercept, passing the ball back down the court via gun centre Sophie Barr.
With just seconds left on the clock, the Magpies were given a penalty pass and had the ball on its way back down the court when the siren sounded.
Eagles coach Sharon Kenna said the win would go down as one of the best the Eagles had achieved.
“It just feels amazing,” an emotional Kenna said.
“The club hasn’t ever got this far in the 17 years we have been in existence. We lost the prelim final two years ago against Camperdown. We’ve never, ever beaten Camperdown, so to win this game is an awesome achievement.”
The Eagles looked dangerous from the get-go. The combinations at both ends of the court were flawless, with Rachael Ryan and Jordyn Billings neutralising Camperdown shooter Narelle Welsh and dominating defence.
The sister act of Annie and Laura Blackburn made goaling look easy, despite the best efforts of Magpies defenders Emma Wright and Gen Darcy.
Sophie Barr in the centre was the key, delivering the ball to exactly where it needed to be with aggressive and swift ball movement.
The Eagles led 24-20 at the main break.
Even though it managed to keep the Magpies out of reach, Kenna said her side didn’t have an easy time of it.
“Don’t think we ever had it easy,” she said.
“In the first half I thought we were really good, but in the second half we made little mistakes and they capitalised on them.”
The Magpies were resurgent in the third quarter, with Leah Sinnott moved into the centre and Narelle Welsh on target.
They got within two goals of the Eagles, before North again found its feet and got the lead back out to five at the final break, 37-32.
Camperdown shot the first three goals of the final term before the Eagles answered back with three.
Kenna said the last five minutes of the game were nerve-racking. “They took it up to us. We made silly mistakes, but we got the goal to put us in front right near the end,” she said.
“Rachael and Jordyn took a couple of good intercepts. We didn’t capitalise on them, but at least it slowed it up. We got it down our end again and even though we didn’t score off it, it kept us in the game.”
Devastated Camperdown coach Tracey Baker said she thought the Magpies might have stolen it in the final term.
“We got off to a slow start and were chasing all day,” Baker said.
“After that start and first quarter, it was great to come back. I thought we might have stolen it off them but we just didn’t quite get there.
“We got back level and then it was our centre pass. If we had’ve snapped that goal, then it would’ve been level again, but that’s what happens.
“They are a top team. I hope they go really well next week.
“I think they’ll put it right up to Koroit. They are a good team at full strength.”
Kenna said her defenders, Ryan and Billings, were “simply outstanding”.
“They just seemed to get better and better the more they played, reading the ball and reading each other’s movements,” she said.
“Rachael Ryan, I reckon she took about 10 intercepts in that game. And Jordy had some really good ones, but she gives us such beautiful drive through the middle, to bring it back into our attack.
“Sophie Barr was brilliant as well. She puts enough pressure on so they have to think about where they are going to pass the ball.
“She is just a presence on court, her stature and athleticism — you know that if you put it through to her, she’s going to get it.”
Kenna said she felt the Blackburns had to work a lot harder on Saturday, but rose to the challenge.
“Some of those slick moves that they do didn’t quite pay off a couple of times, but Laura stood up well,” she said.
“They were double-teaming Annie a fair bit of the time and Laura had to take the shot and she shot really well.
“She played a good captain’s game.”
Kenna told her girls they could savour the win, but they needed to remember they had “one more mission”.
“Last week I said be brave. This week I said believe. Next week the dream is there for them,” she said.
“We need to go out, keep doing everything we are doing, play the way we have been playing and have a go.
“Koroit is going to be tough, we know that. But once you’re out on that court in a grand final, the game is anyone’s.”