Sport Wales was rocking last night as Celtic Dragons made a piece of Netball Superleague history by qualifying for the Grand Final for the first time. A raucous crowd packed into the venue and boomed their support throughout the encounter as the Welsh side managed to overcome Surrey Storm 65-52 and book a date against Team Bath.
Very little could separate the sides in the first half as the hosts went into the interval with a one goal advantage. However, an incredible third quarter display from the Dragons saw them pull clear as the defensive duo of Sara Hale and Stephanie Williams combined to restrict their opponents to just six goals and increase the gap to fourteen.
Changes were made to the Storm line-up for the fourth quarter which did spark a small revival but the damage had been done and Celtic were able to cruise safely home. Melissa Hyndman’s team now have the chance to etch their name onto the trophy for the first time at Worcester Arena on Saturday.
The drama started from the opening exchanges as three early turnovers saw Dragons race into a six goal lead. Unsurprisingly, the focal point of the hosts attack was Lottysha Cato as a variety of long feeds found their way into the grateful arms of the tall Grenadian shooter. Taking up her favourite position under the post, Cato eased Celtic ahead 19-12.
In the second quarter a more composed Storm defence performed better at nullifying the attacking threat of their opponents. Hannah Reid was able to judge the height of the pass into the circle and time her leaps to perfection to grab vital intercepts. A couple of converted turnovers drew the teams’ level and only a last second Cato score saw the home side lead 31-30 at half-time.
A passage of four turnovers in the space of thirty seconds saw the momentum swing at the start of the second half. Those chances were the closest that Storm got to taking the lead at any stage during the match. Hale and Williams started to dominate in the defensive circle and with Cato excelling at the other end of the court, Dragons won the quarter 19-6 to effectively end the game as a contest with a 50-36 advantage.
The Storm coaching staff rang the changes for the final quarter with young England shooter Amanda Davis taking to the court and Sophie Morgan coming on at WA against her former club. Rachel Dunn and Cato traded scores as the game meandered to a finish to the background noise of delighted home fans chanting ‘We’re on our way to Worcester’.
The final whistle brought delighted scenes as the Celtic players embraced each other and jubilant fans clambered to congratulate their heroes. This has already been the most successful campaign for the Welsh side and they will take on the tag of underdogs when they head into the Grand Final against the traditional powerhouse of Team Bath.
However, those that witnessed a convincing win in Cardiff last night would warn against believing that the outcome is a forgone conclusion in a season that has already thrown up several unexpected results.
The 2013 Netball Superleague Grand Final between Team Bath and Celtic Dragons will be broadcast live on Sky Sports with radio commentary on BBC 5Live Sports Extra.
Dragons starting 7: GS - Cato, GA - Moseley, WA - Drane, C – K. Jones, WD - James, GD - Williams, GK - Hale
On the bench: Murrie, Lewis, N. Jones, Dyke, Betsy
Storm starting 7: GS - Dunn, GA - Neal, WA - Davidson, C - Trippick, WD - Seaton, GD - Holland, GK - Reid
On the bench: Davis, Morgan, Lees, Bello, Sinclair Umpires:
Ian Fuller and Jackie Mizon with Debbie King as reserve