Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic stun Swifts in dramatic semi

Jo Harten landed the match-winner in the last play of the game. Photo /Getty Images
Jo Harten landed the match-winner in the last play of the game. Photo /Getty Images

Magic 50 Swifts 49
A penalty goal from English import Jo Harten at the end of regulation time has secured the Magic a dramatic come-from-behind win over the NSW Swifts in their transtasman league playoff match in Sydney.

The Magic, who headed into the minor semifinal on the back of four losses from their last five outings, trailed the Swifts for much of the match - at times by as many as seven goals.

But the Swifts were never able to shake the Magic menace, and when the visitors took the lead for the first time since the opening period early in the final quarter it became a battle of wits.

No more than two goals separated the two sides over the low-scoring final spell, with both sides appearing to do their utmost at times to try and lose the match as the Magic struggled to work the ball into the shooting circle, while the Swifts' shooting pairing of Susan Pratley and Caitlin Thwaites lost their nerve down the stretch.

The decisive moment proved an offensive penalty against Thwaites, which gave the Magic the opportunity to level the score and, with the resulting centre pass, take the lead with less than a minute on the clock. The Swifts levelled it once more a short time later, leaving the Magic with 14 seconds to convert their centre pass.

Ill-discipline from the Swifts defenders gave Harten a clear shot at goal, and with time up on the clock, the English shooter nailed the attempt from under the post.

Despite being largely written off for this finals campaign after their dreadful run into the playoffs - indeed few even expected them to get this far following the key departures of Irene van Dyk and Laura Langman in the off-season - Magic captain Casey Kopua said her side were always confident they could be competitive in the finals series. The star defender said her side refused to give up against the Swifts, and those fighting qualities paid off for them down the stretch.

"I think it just goes to show the heart, the power and the belief we have in this team," said Kopua, who is the only player to have featured in all seven of the Magic's playoffs campaigns.

"In our trainings we set up scenarios for these pressure situations. Under pressure you can see in each others eyes how things should be going. Obviously it was a bit tighter than we would have liked, but it was great, can't wait for the next one."

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty side will now face the loser of tomorrow night's major semifinal between the Melbourne Vixens and Queensland Firebirds in the preliminary final next weekend.

Rejecting the unwritten sporting convention that dictates players decline to nominate a team they would rather face in their next playoff encounter, Kopua was typically honest when asked whether she would prefer to head Melbourne or Brisbane for their next sudden death encounter.

"Melbourne," she laughed.

Tonight's win was reminiscent of their one-goal win over the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the 2012 minor semifinal, which kick-started the Magic's stunning title run under the stewardship of then-coach Noeline Taurua.

- NZ Herald

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