FOR the first time in five years St Pat’s has been crowned the women’s Premier League Hockey champions, overcoming Lithgow Panthers 5-2 in Saturday’s decider.
The tears in the eyes and emotion on the face of St Pat’s coach Jaden Ekert as he embraced his players at full-time in Lithgow showed just how much that win meant.
“It means a lot but not just to me, to all the girls. We put in a lot of hard work. Some girls are retiring, Julz [Julie Hanman] and Chook [Tracey Gunning] so things like this become pretty emotional,” he said.
“I am very proud, very, very proud. You put a lot of time into this, a lot of love and care and to see it finally come to fruition, it’s like ‘Thank goodness’. That was just awesome.”
Before the celebrations there was plenty of quality hockey and nervous moments.
The Saints led 2-1 at the break and by the 45 minute mark that advantage had ballooned to 5-1.
Panthers responded in typical fashion – lifting their intensity – and threw plenty at Pat’s defence. But the Saints conceded just once more as they snared their first title since 2013.
“We made it hard for ourselves there for a bit, we kept turning the ball over, but I told them before we walked out of the change room ‘Never give up’,” Ekert said.
“They [Panthers] don’t stop, they just do not stop. So I said to the girls that it’s simple, we know they don’t stop, so we don’t stop either.
“They are such a quality team and have quality players in key positions. If we nullify that, which we did today, I knew things would click.”
It was the Saints who were the first to strike in Saturday’s grand final. From their second penalty corner play they switched the ball from the top to the right and back again and though Kristy Ekert’s initial attempt was saved, Jodi Webb put away the loose ball.
Panthers were back on level terms two minutes later as they too struck off the set play – Clare Bosman finding the mark.
From there Panthers turned up the pressure and on 20 minutes looked like they’d snatch the lead when Amanda Saladine’s cross found Chelsea Marshall unmarked. However, she fired wide.
Panthers again came close six minutes later. This time Rylee Millar won the ball from a defensive penalty corner and released Hannah Kable.
Her cross found Katie Hamment in the circle, but Saints goalkeeper Lilli-Rai Campbell made a brilliant sliding save.
Campbell was in excellent touch while Saints’ defenders Kirralee Naylor and Lucy Weal also came up with important tackles as Panthers pressed.
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But it was the Saints who struck next.
Just under two minutes out from the break Sarah Watterson burst into the circle and her brilliant reverse stick shot from the left flew into the top right of the goal to make it 2-1.
Though that gave the Saints the lead, it was the 10 minutes after the half-time break which were the most telling.
Three minutes after play resumed Watterson, Ekert and Hanman combined and drew a penalty stroke which Ekert converted.
That same trio again combined speed and slick passing again soon after to help Ekert to her second of the match.
Then one minute later Paityn Simpson struck to make it 5-1.
The hosts lifted, Bosman giving them hope when she scored with 21 to go. But the Saints scrambled well in defence – Gunning making some nice saves and Madi Boyce a good trap on the line – to ensure they finished as premiers.
Panthers coach Dave Marshall consoled his team after full-time. He was proud of the effort they put into the match, conceding the 10-minute period to start the second half cost them.
“It was disappointing, I thought in the first half we played extremely well and I was a bit disappointed we weren’t up at half-time, I thought we deserved to be up,” he said.
“The second half, they had a 10 minute period where our defence just went missing a little bit and they scored a couple of goals.
“There speed up front hurt us, without a doubt, I thought Sarah Watterson, her speed tore us apart in that five-10 minute period when they put three on us. We couldn’t recover after that.
“But I’m very proud of the girls, they’re a young squad and there are plenty of good years in front of them. To Pat’s credit, they deserved it, there’s no doubt.”