Australian shooting legend Catherine Cox has signed off her career in style, bowing out a winner as the Melbourne Vixens claimed the ANZ Championship crown with an emotion-charged victory over the Queensland Firebirds.
Introduced off the bench in the final quarter with her side holding a narrow three-goal lead, Cox produced a nerveless shooting performance down the stretch to help the Vixens to their second transtasman league crown. Up by 10 goals heading into the final minute, the emotion of the occasion got the better of Cox, with the 38-year-old in tears as her side closed in on the victory and the clock wound down on her career.
"I couldn't be happier right now, it's been an amazing year and yeah, to finish like this is awesome, it's been such an amazing ride," said Cox, in between sobs after the match.
Vixens captain Bianca Chatfield said she was delighted Cox, who joined the Melbourne side this season and has largely played second fiddle to regular starter Karyn Bailey, got to play a role in the team's title win.
"I'm so happy she got out there today, what a career she has had and a super legend to have on the Melbourne Vixens team list," said Chatfield, who is the only player in the Vixens line-up still remaining from the 2009 championship winning side.
But it was Cox's shooting partner Tegan Caldwell that really set the team up for the win, with energetic goal attack named the grand final MVP after a commanding performance in-goal. Caldwell led all scorers with 30 from 33 attempts, and was a force on defence, winning back ball for her side when they slipped up, demonstrating why she got the nod for the Australian Commonwealth Games team.
"Tegan was outstanding today, what a massive effort. I'm just so proud of all of the girls - we were under real pressure at times and they always responded. We knew if we just stayed positive and kept doing the things we do well we would eventually wear the down," said Chatfield.
Despite the final 53-42 scoreline heavily favouring the Vixens, it does not tell the story of how tightly fought the match was for most of the proceedings. The Firebirds, led by a typically inspirational performance by captain Laura Geitz, fought their way back from a six-goal deficit in the second quarter to get themselves right back in contention at halftime. Trailing 24-22 at the long break, the Queensland side scored the first two goals of the third period to make for a tense battle.
But after a tough preliminary final clash against the Magic last week, the Firebirds could not maintain the fight over the latter stages of the match as the homeside produced a stunning 16-8 final quarter blitz to claim the crown in comprehensive fashion.
It is the second straight year the Firebirds have finished the transtasman league bridesmaids after falling to the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the 2013 decider. A gracious Geitz applauded the fight her side showed in the first half, but said the Vixens were just on another level.
"I told the girls going into the game that we had to earn it, and we didn't do that. The Melbourne Vixens are another class of team and they thoroughly deserved to win today," said Geitz.