Netball: Awful start made Magic take a long, hard look

By Dana Johannsen

Irene van Dyk in action. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Irene van Dyk in action. Photo / Christine Cornege.

When the Magic stepped off the court 12 weeks ago after a demoralising one-goal loss to the Melbourne Vixens - their fourth straight defeat - never did they expect they would be returning to Hisense Arena to face the Vixens in the grand final.

So how on earth did the Magic come to be in the title decider this Sunday?

Early acknowledgement of their weakness

Losing their first four games forced the Magic to address their shortcomings from the outset.

Before the season, Magic coach Noeline Taurua spoke at length about wanting to develop a performance culture in the team. That meant some fairly brutal team debriefs and athlete feedback when the Magic opened their 2012 campaign with a run of four straight losses.

In previous seasons, the Magic have cruised through to the playoffs, only to be exposed in the red hot intensity of finals netball.

Developed a gameplan to beat the Australians

Of all the New Zealand sides, the Magic looked the most comfortable against the Australian style of play.

Their biggest loss to an Aussie side this season was by just two goals against the NSW Swifts in Sydney. Their only other defeat was to the Vixens in Melbourne, where the home side stole a one-goal lead at the death.

There has been a marked shift in the way the Magic respond to pressure this year.

They have demonstrated a more patient, clinical approach on attack, where they are now able to reset, change pace and move the ball strategically, rather than frantically throwing bodies around and trying to force the ball through.

This has proved successful against the Australian style of defence, which is built around wearing teams down by constant pressure.

Support acts

The one thing that has been a constant in the Magic line-up is their "big 3" - Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman and Casey Williams. The world-class trio have always led the way for the Magic, with fellow Silver Fern Leana de Bruin adding further star power to the team this season.

But this season their support acts have come to the party.

After a mixed 2011 season, shooter Julianna Naoupu has stepped up her consistency, impressing with her court craft and willingness to go to the post.

Elias Shadrock, unwanted by the Magic last season, got her opportunity in the starting line-up through injury to Jess Tuki and has never relinquished her spot.

The youngster has shown an uncanny knack of coming up with ball when the Magic desperately need a defensive stop.

Young Australian midcourter Khao Watts was not considered good enough to even sit on the bench for the Thunderbirds (and the Adelaide side have a very poor bench), but has flourished in the Magic environment, showing calm and poise under pressure.

Irene van Dyk

Irene van Dyk has always been the Magic's key strike weapon in the attack end, but this season she has taken her game to another level.

A nominee for season MVP, van Dyk is the competition's leading goal scorer with 476 goals from 501 attempts.

But it has been the 40-year-old's increased range of movement and variety on attack that has led to her dominance in goal this season.

In Monday night's preliminary final, when she took the court just hours after learning of her mother's death, van Dyk played a key role in the Magic's late charge. Van Dyk fought for every scrap of ball in the shooting circle, rebounding strongly when Naoupu went off the boil in the latter stages, and chasing down the loose ball when the Mystics defenders got a hand to it.

The family will delay her mother's funeral in South Africa so van Dyk can play in the final on Sunday and the ace shooter has vowed to help win the game for her mother.

Luck

Taurua admits her side have had an element of luck in the playoffs over the past couple of weeks.

When their minor semifinal clash against the Thunderbirds went down to the wire, the bounce of the ball - and the umpire's whistle - went the Magic's way.

Likewise, Taurua believes the Mystics probably had the wood over her side for most of the second half of the preliminary final.

But her side kept fighting to the very end, with a late steal from de Bruin giving the Magic the opportunity to draw level with the Mystics in the dying seconds and send the match into extra time.

Some might say they got lucky, but the Magic have been good enough to put themselves in the position to challenge in the late stages and convert their opportunities when they came.

- NZ Herald

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