Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Firebirds beat Magic

The Firebirds celebrate after winning the semi-final. Photo / Christine Cornege
The Firebirds celebrate after winning the semi-final. Photo / Christine Cornege

Firebirds 53
Magic 50

It was not the fairytale end Magic coach Noeline Taurua was looking for, but in own understated words, "that's sport".

Taurua's 11-year tenure at the Waikato-Bay of Plenty franchise came to an end last night, with her side beaten by a slick and composed Firebirds unit in their transtasman league semifinal match-up. With the Magic the only New Zealand side to make the playoffs, the result means the ANZ Championship final will be an all-Australian affair for the first time since 2009.

The Queensland side will fight it out with the Vixens in Melbourne in next Sunday's preliminary final for a chance to take on the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the grand final.

The Thunderbirds, who finished top of the table after the regular season, took the direct route to the title decider with a 49-39 win over Vixens in yesterday's major semifinal.

Heading into the match there was a lot of emotion in the camp with the sense an end of an era was drawing near.

With Taurua stepping down at the end of the season and speculation some of the team's top names will chase contracts elsewhere in 2014, this was the last time this group would be together on home soil.

That motivation was not enough to counter a fired-up Queensland side, who seemed to play a notch higher in intensity all evening. Despite that, Taurua believed her side gave it their all last night and were simply beaten by a slicker side.

"I think we fought really hard and we gave it our all. Yes, there were aspects of our performance that could have been better, but I think our attitude was there," she said.

Before the match Firebirds captain Laura Geitz pulled her defenders aside and had an intense discussion in the midcourt, laying down the level of commitment she expected from the team.

With that message ringing in their ears the Queensland side started with fierce intensity on defence, preventing the home side from being able to settle into any sort of rhythm.

Young midcourters Gabi Simpson and Kim Ravaillion did a power of work outside the circle, making life tough for the Magic to get into good feeding positions. As a result the Firebirds circle defenders gobbled up a lot of early ball, keeping the Magic scoreless for nearly five minutes.

By the time they got on the board the visitors had already scored six goals, putting the Magic in chase mode from the outset. While the Magic were able to steady themselves as the quarter wore on, they were unable to make any inroads into the Firebirds lead, trailing 13-8 at the first break.

Needing to come up with something special to ensure the game didn't get away from them, the Magic defence end fired up, with Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin coming up with a couple of inspiration plays to turn the tide for the home side.

In a match that was going to come down to the small moments, a wonky shot from Ellen Halpenny was beautifully inbounded by Irene van Dyk, falling back into the hands of her goal attack, who did not miss with her second attempt to bring the Magic back within one at halftime.

After working so hard to claw their way back into the match, it took just two and a half minutes for the Magic to find themselves five-goals down again, after turning the ball over on their first two possessions.

Deficit stretched out to seven with five minutes remaining in the third spell, and while the Magic battled valiantly in the final quarter, with Firebirds shooter Romelda Aiken holding strong in the shooting circle, they were always going to struggle to generate the turnover ball needed.

- NZ Herald

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