Waratah Cup Champion crowned tonight

While the dust settles on the 2015 ANZ Championship, and State Age representatives from around the State get ready for an exciting three days of competition this weekend, two teams are quietly going about their business in preparation for the pinnacle game of their season.

The 2015 DOOLEYS State League Waratah Cup Grand Final will be contested tonight with Minor Premiers City of Sydney/Sydney Uni taking on Eastwood Ryde; first centre pass at 7:00pm.

The Jenny O’Keeffe-coached CSNA/Sydney Uni are aiming to claim their first Waratah Cup title after graduating to the top division in 2014.  Eastwood Ryde (ERNA) on the other hand will make their fourth consecutive appearance in the title decider; however will be aiming to be crowned Champions for the first time since 2013.

Netball NSW caught up with both O’Keeffe and ERNA mentor Jo Macdermid ahead of the highly-anticipated decider to see how both teams were feeling in the lead-up to their final match.

The road to the Grand Final
At the halfway point of the season just a draw separated the two – CSNA/Sydney Uni had six wins and two losses, ERNA had five wins, two losses and a draw (to St George in Round 6).

After the Bye round both teams added five more wins and a loss to finish off the season; however, CSNA finished with four consecutive wins of a comfortable margin (the closest was 15 goals) whilst ERNA had just two back-to-back wins to close the regular season.

The two met in the Major Semi Final after finishing first and second, with CSNA/Sydney Uni claiming a 14-goal victory; however the result didn’t reflect the closely fought contest that was played out two weeks ago.  CSNA/Sydney Uni led at every break, but Eastwood were dogged throughout the 60 minutes – getting to within a couple goals before CSNA/Sydney Uni capitalised on their strong defensive pressure.

O’Keeffe was reflective ahead of CSNA/Sydney Uni’s inaugural appearance in a Waratah Cup decider, saying it’s been a long journey to get to the Grand Final.

“Our road [to the Grand Final] has been an interesting one this year. It’s been really challenging and in some ways I think we were able to fly under the radar for the first half of the year because we were missing players at various times through their NSW State Team duties, or through injuries,” O’Keeffe admitted.

“But we have been incredibly fortunate to have a Division 2 side that has supported us to no end, and can probably take equal credit for us just making it to the Grand Final.”

After going down to CSNA/Sydney Uni in the Semi Final, ERNA had a second chance to make the decider when they met long-time rivals Sutherland Shire in the Preliminary Final. The two have a long history of netball battles, including back-to-back Grand Finals in 2012 and 2013.

ERNA were dealt a huge blow early in the sudden-death final, losing their Captain and influential midcourter Emily Keenan to injury with five minutes to play in the opening quarter.  However Keenan’s teammates rallied to the challenge by staying in control for the majority of the match to finish nine-goal victors and advance to tonight’s title decider.

While Macdermid only joined ERNA as Head Coach halfway through the season, she said the side has enjoyed a good build-up in 2015.

“For me it’s been a shorter road than others, but I think the second half of the season has been good,” Macdermid stated.

“We were able to beat the top team [at that time] twice, and the only time we didn’t beat the top [team] was when City of Sydney were up there. But the wins against Sutherland and St George during the rounds were certainly a positive for the team, and now we just have to manage to find a win against City of Sydney.”

Opposition Strengths
Both coaches were quick to praise their opposition, with O’Keeffe and Macdermid admitting they’ve got a tough battle on the cards when CSNA/Sydney Uni and ERNA take to the Show Court tonight.

Netball NSW asked both coaches if they could narrow down to one key strength they believe they will have to counter in order to claim victory tonight.

Macdermid was quick to admit ERNA’s biggest challenge was preventing possession for 2014 Australian Netball League co-MVP and record goal-scorer, 196cm Kristina Brice.

“Limiting the influence of Kristina Brice is going to be pivotal. Our ability to stop the ball getting to her will be paramount,” Macdermid declared.

“The other thing they bring to the court is City of Sydney are a really tall side across the court so every player has really good reach – we will have to ensure our passes are spot on to factor in those long arms.”

For O’Keeffe, Eastwood’s strength is not only what they do on court but the belief they bring to their game – which is something that is harder to contradict.

“Eastwood truly are a team [of 12] and I think that was certainly shown last week when they lost their fearless leader; Emily is an amazing player who is incredibly well respected by everyone [in the netball community],” O’Keeffe admitted.

“They rallied together and went out there and just did the job, and I expect them to do exactly the same this week.

“They appear to have a team mentality that is just so strong and they’re there for each other, and I’d like to think we’re exactly the same to be honest, but it’s something that I certainly respect and we’ll be doing our best to make sure that we can counter that tonight.”

Key match-ups
And while Netball NSW is excited to see these two experienced coaches go head-to-head again for the title of 2015 Champions, O’Keeffe and Macdermid are happy for the attentions of the crowd to be on the on court action.

“I think both the circles will be key, which obviously puts pressure on the midcourt to step up, but both attacking ends have completely different styles of play so will go a long way to determining tonight’s outcome,” O’Keeffe declared.

Macdermid put a bit more emphasis into the midcourt match-up than her counterpart, saying the match-up between the Centres will determine who gets the most ball for their shooters to capitalise on the scoreboard.

“Our Centres against each other is not only going to be an entertaining contest, it’s also going to go a long way to decided tonight’s outcome.  Jay Rikard-Bell (who replaced Keenan at Centre in the Preliminary Final) against Nikki Deegenaars haven’t played against each other yet, so will be interesting to see how that match-up goes tonight,” Macdermid said.