HAMILTON Kangaroos, winless last season, are one victory away from a fairytale grand final appearance.
The Kangaroos stunned defending premiers North Warrnambool Eagles with a 41-39 triumph in Saturday’s qualifying final at the Friendly Societies’ Park in Warrnambool.
The win in the club’s first A grade final is a coming of age for the Hampden league newcomer, which was born out of a merger between Western Border league clubs Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials before the start of last season.
Coach Sara Byrne was ecstatic with the result, something she hadn’t envisaged when she took over the job for this season.
Asked if she thought pre-season the Kangaroos could upstage the reigning premier in a qualifying final, she replied: “I probably might have laughed.”
“When we put the team together I knew I had a quality team there,” she said.
“But because they haven’t played that standard bar two, I didn’t know how they would cope with the pressure and the Hampden league has a lot more pressure than what they were used to.
“I think they have shown they can handle it.”
The Kangaroos’ emergence as a genuine premiership contender also erased a lingering doubt among her players, who hadn’t beaten a side above them in four attempts this season before Saturday.
Byrne has been critical at times about some of her side’s performances, saying her players lacked belief.
“I’m a hard marker because I know what they can do. To achieve that (win), I knew they could do it if they believed,” she said.
Just three weeks ago the Kangaroos led the Eagles by nine goals at half-time in a dead-rubber round 17 match only to go down by seven goals.
There were periods in Saturday’s game where the Eagles, who only lost two games for the regular season, looked headed for a predictable win. They led the first quarter for all but the final 10 seconds. For much of it they were three goals in front, but the Kangaroos, through patient ball movement and tight defence, edged ahead by one by the buzzer.
The Kangaroos scored the first five goals of the second quarter to open a six-goal buffer. It was four by the main break and after re-organising their attacking end — Sophie Barr went from wing attack to goal attack, captain Laura Blackburn from goal shooter to wing attack and goal attack Annie Blackburn went to shooter — the Eagles closed to within two at three-quarter-time.
With a handful of minutes remaining in the match, the Eagles hit the front.
“My thought process was ‘oh my God, this is going to happen to my girls again’,” Byrne said, referring to the round 17 Eagles comeback.
But the Kangaroos rallied.
Eagles coach Sharon Kenna praised the Kangaroos’ effort.
“They were very good. I thought they played a really good, controlled game of netball,” Kenna said.
“They desperately wanted to win. Hamilton was holding us up and they never let us get any flow on. They did their job well and we couldn’t get any free-flow running happening. We struggled to get it in there (to our goalies).
“I don’t think we should have won. They deserved to win. I felt it definitely wasn’t a good game from my girls but to play badly and lose by two means there are positives.
“We need to fix up some stuff and make sure we look after the ball better.”
Kenna said the Eagles were beaten in most positions.
“We struggled to have a winner on the court and I can’t say that has happened very often,” she said.
“We did play really well at the start and then the wheels just fell off.”