Newcastle City have battled their way into their fifth consecutive AFL Women’s grand final in the region, after a fourth-quarter comeback against first-placed Killarney Vale got them over the line at the death.
Just minutes into the final quarter at Adelaide Street Oval, Sian George slotted home the Bombers’ second goal of the afternoon. The major fired the home side back into the lead with a 21-16 scoreline, after trailing for most of the match.
Molly Simpson and Meaghan Macdonald had scored early for City in the opening two quarters, and a lone goal to Asleigh Page had kept the Bombers just a single point behind leading into the last stanza of the elimination final.
George’s effort seemed to have swung momentum towards Killarney Vale, and all but put them into the big dance off the confidence surge. City rallied, however, and Sarah Halvorsen, Claire Mcgarity, and Katherine Stellmaker all scored.
The rapid-fire three majors was too much for the Bombers to handle, although they did manage one final last-gasp goal through Megan Jenkins. Killarney Vale dropped behind, and Newcastle claimed a 34-27 victory on Saturday afternoon.
The miraculous late turnaround for the Blues came from the “effort” and “willpower” of the squad, City boss Jon Clark said, as well as that determination to keep their finals appearance-streak alive.
“The girls really put in that extra effort in the final quarter, which was great to see even after Killarney Vale kicked that early got to put themselves in front,” Clark told the Chronicle. “Full credit to the girls to get over the finish line.”
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City had a rugged start to the season, dropping to two defeats in three before finding their gear. After the switch from two club teams in the offseason to one, the gelling of the new-look roster was a key challenge for Clark and his backroom staff.
Four rounds in, however, they found their groove. Since then, the defending champions didn’t drop a match. Close clashes with the Bombers (33-15), the Hawks (47-32), and Warners Bay (45-34) tested them, but they came through unscathed.
Now a new challenger for the throne awaits them at Newcastle No.1 Sportsground on Saturday afternoon. Maitland qualified for the grand final with a 2.9-21 to 2.6-18 victory over Wyong Lakes, and stepped into their very first decider.
The Magpies struck first at Rose Point Park through Alexandra Pearce, before Sarah Burns answered back in the second quarter. Aleece Williams and Skyla Dunn each scored once for Wyong and Maitland in the second half.
In the end, it was Maitland’s behinds that got them over the line – the Saints had slotted nine over the course of the elimination final, while Wyong Lakes could only muster six one-pointers to leave them three points behind at the final whistle.
The fact that City has played in five grand finals and the Saints are preparing for their first will be a key factor come the bounce, Clark believes. The squad may look different to last year’s title, but the veteran experience still oozes across the roster.
“I have belief the girls have the skill and knowledge to get over the line,” he said.
“There’s only seven or eight girls returning from the final last year in the team, but there’s so much experience in our team regardless. That finals experience from our older heads will play a big part in the results on Saturday, I believe.
“We lost the first couple of the year and then since then we’ve had a steady growth week in and week out. The girls have really picked everything up and we’ve been building since those opening weeks. We’re peaking at the right time.”
The AFL Hunter Central Coast Women’s grand final will begin at 11.50am on Saturday, September 7 at the Newcastle No.1 Sportsground. The decider will be streamed live on BarTV Sports through Facebook and YouTube.