L-R, Firebirds Gabi Simpson and Firebirds Laura Geitz (captain) celebrate winning the Netball Grand Final between the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts in Brisbane, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
L-R, Firebirds Gabi Simpson and Firebirds Laura Geitz (captain) celebrate winning the Netball Grand Final between the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts in Brisbane, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY GLENN HUNT

Last-minute charge gives Firebirds championship win

LEAVING it until a dramatic final minute, the Mission Queensland Firebirds made it third time lucky with a battling late charge to secure the 2015 ANZ Championship title with a last-gasp 57-56 Grand Final win over a gallant NSW Swifts.

Captain and former Allora junior Laura Geitz made a crucial intercept at the end. Geitz was supported all the way by her team-mates, including former Warwick junior Clare McMeniman.

Having finished runners-up for the past two years, the Firebirds eventually backed up their 2011 title - but had to wait until late in the piece before pinching the 2015 edition in the closest Grand Final ever from under the noses of the Swifts.

QUEENSLAND CAPTAIN: Laura Geitz.
QUEENSLAND CAPTAIN: Laura Geitz. Contributed

Inspirational captain Geitz and key shooting weapon Romelda Aiken, who notched a Grand Final record haul of 47 goals, were key figures in the Firebirds stirring never-say-die attitude.

It took the Firebirds until the last 20 seconds to hit the lead for the first time after the Swifts looked well on track to secure the honors after leading for 59 minutes of the contest.

Lacking their earlier accuracy, two errors in the final minute cost the Swifts dearly in a blockbuster Grand Final which had a bit of everything in an enthralling showcase of the sport.

Showing the great resolve and belief they've had all season, the Firebirds were quick to pounce finishing off a strong comeback in the second half to drive the final nail home.

A jubilant Geitz was proud of her teammates for their resilience and never-say-die attitude in the final minutes.

"I've never played a quarter like that," Geitz said after the match of the final term.

"In that last three or four minutes we just knew that we were going to win this and we hadn't gone through the season we had, we haven't gone through two (losing) Grand Finals without just fighting our absolute guts out and that's what we did.

"I couldn't be more prouder. That is amazing. That is the best feeling that I've ever had on the netball court."

Firebirds defender Rebecca Bulley became the first player to win three titles with three different teams after also being in the winner's circle with the Swifts in 2008 and Adelaide Thunderbirds in 2013.

The Swifts welcomed back key player Kimberlee Green to their midcourt mix. Troubled by a calf injury in recent weeks, captain Green slotted in at wing attack and the visitors showed their intent early with the Swifts off to the best of starts in laying down the challenge to the home town favorites.

Showing great patience in an effort to retain possession, the visitors employed short sharp passing movements on attack to nullify the competition's most dangerous defensive team.

With the most accurate shooting combination in the league, Susan Pettitt and Caitlin Thwaites continued their strong form under the hoop with expert movement and accuracy.

At the other end, defender Julie Corletto was in the thick of the action, her constant presence proving unsettling for the Firebirds shooters.

With her defensive partner Sharni Layton not far behind, the pair introduced the chairlift for the first time this season which helped to create confusion as the Firebirds continued to be rattled on attack, allowing the Swifts to create a 14-11 lead at the first break.

The home team came back with a hiss and a roar on the resumption, drawing within one as the pair continued to slug out an intense and willing contest.

Again it was the Swifts who took it up to the Firebirds, the irrepressible Layton producing a standout effort under the home team's hoop. Geitz did the same at the other end but it was the Swifts who made better use of their opportunities.

Green was pivotal in the Swifts attacking momentum while McCulloch was a key figure in the midcourt defensive role. The visitors did an effective job at defusing the Firebirds renowned full-court defensive pressure in restricting the home team's customary dominance.

In unfamiliar territory, the Firebirds clung on but Thwaites, increasingly the go-to girl under the hoop, ensured the Swifts went into the main break with a well-constructed 30-25 lead.

In an effort to contain Green, the Firebirds were forced into changes for the second half with McMeniman moving from goal defence to wing defence and Bulley coming off the bench.

The home team made their move almost immediately in a dramatic third stanza, again drawing to within one with a five-goal unanswered spurt in a bruising and torrid clash.

With Kim Ravaillion providing a more seamless service to Aiken and upping their defensive intensity with Geitz providing turnovers, the Firebirds threw down the gauntlet.

Corletto copped a solid bang on the nose by a flailing elbow which appeared to revitalise the Swifts, Pettitt stepping up under the goal with a flawless display. The Swifts again impressed with their patience, showing no signs of panic in absorbing the pressure and controlling proceedings with their finishing.

With both teams having the same number of attempts, the Swifts better shooting accuracy proved decisive when the visitors took a 45-41 lead into the last break.

Layton, who was also named the Most Valuable Player of the Finals Series, was left stunned by the result.

"(I'm) lost for words," a disappointed Layton said. "We fought so hard and I'm so proud of the girls. We put everything out there today but we didn't get result we wanted.

"It's been such a great journey this year for the Swifts - congratulations to the Firebirds. They were more consistent all year and did a great job today."

Geitz, who also captained the Firebirds to the title in 2011, said their second premiership was a fitting reward for the hard work everyone involved with the team had put into this campaign.

"The last two years, coming so close and not putting out our best performance in the Grand Final, that looked like it was going that way today," Geitz admitted.

"But this playing group has a belief like no other that they can win under the toughest circumstances - and it doesn't get any tougher than that and Swifts were just an incredible side today.

"We know that they're a side that plays incredible netball and it was I suppose everything that we've been through as a playing group together in those tough moments counted today.

"Girls who have gone through some real challenges at times and netball's been their family. They've come back and had another crack at it and what a beautiful way for them to be rewarded."


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