Official Result: Melbourne Vixens (53) defeated Mission Queensland Firebirds (42)
Veteran shooter Catherine Cox was given the perfect send-off when the Melbourne Vixens overpowered the Queensland Firebirds 53-42 to secure the 2014 Grand Final in Melbourne on Sunday.
Cox was introduced for the final quarter with the game precariously poised, the Vixens leading by three but the home team produced a withering burst down the home straight to provide the knockout blow in cementing their second premiership.
Proving the perfect impact player, Cox didn’t put a foot wrong, the Vixens storming home after taking three-quarters of the match to grind down the valiant Queenslanders, the emotion taking hold before the final whistle as one of the game’s greats ended her glittering career in style.
Contesting their second straight final, the Firebirds were well in contention until the last quarter but forced into playing catch-up, the visitors continued to turn the ball over with their eagerness and trying too hard to reel in their opponents.
Vixens were quick to make them pay, a five-goal burst putting the game beyond doubt with the experienced heads of Geva Mentor, in her fourth Grand Final, captain Bianca Chatfield, Madi Robinson, young gun Tegan Caldwell and the veteran Cox proving the difference.
The intensity and hype associated with a Grand Final was on show from the outset as both teams settled into an early arm wrestle in a tight, tough contest.
Firebirds made a strong start, the connection between shooters Amy Wild and Romelda Aiken twice giving the visitors three goal buffers but once settled it was the Vixens who looked to take control.
Goal attack Caldwell shone in the playmaker’s role for the home team, opening up the circle with her strong drives on the back of electric speed which combined with a lift in defensive pressure, pushed the Vixens into the lead.
The Vixens back three of Mentor, Chatfield and Kate Moloney turned the defensive screws as the Firebirds found it increasingly difficult to deliver clean ball into their circle.
With both teams having the same number of 14 attempts, it was the superior accuracy of the Vixens, Caldwell in particular, which helped edge the home team to a 13-11 lead at the first break.
The influential link between Robinson and Caldwell continued on the resumption while the Chatfield/Mentor combination kept Wild and Aiken under close wraps.
Lethal on transition, Vixens looked to make the most of their turnover opportunities as they sprung out to a five-goal lead. There were ominous signs for the visitors, who were struggling to curb the Vixens overall control, before defender Laura Geitz inspired a telling fight-back.
Plucking off a succession of intercepts, the Firebirds skipper rallied her team-mates, the visitors producing a strong finish to redeem the damage and keep the margin at two as the home team went to the main break with a 24-22 lead.
There was a wobbly restart from both teams, shooter Karyn Bailey’s radar off target for the Vixens as the Firebirds pounced.
With Wild more involved, the Firebirds levelled things up within two minutes but could not consolidate. Calm and assured the Vixens absorbed the pressure, Robinson in the thick of play as the home team steadied the ship to keep their noses in front.
The Firebirds kept coming but young wing defence Moloney, who was a strong presence throughout, provided the vital turnover for a strong finishing burst from the home team as they edged to a 37-34 lead at three-quarter time.
Vixens shooting statistics:
Tegan Caldwell 30/33 (91%)
Karyn Bailey 17/22 (77%)
Catherine Cox 6/7 (86%)
Firebirds shooting statistics:
Romelda Aiken 25/30 (83%)
Amy Wild 17/21 (81%)
Grand Final MVP: Tegan Caldwell (Melbourne Vixens)