Australia’s netballers must be the unhappiest silver medallists of the Commonwealth Games after losing the gold medal match to New Zealand in the most dramatic and gut-wrenching way imaginable.
The Silver Ferns were overjoyed at their 66-64 win in Thursday’s final in New Delhi 66-64 after an agonisingly long second period of extra time, in what must have been one of the longest netball clashes in history.
The Diamonds slumped in disbelief as Maria Tutaia scored the winning goal, to end a match that went way past the 14 minutes of allotted extra time, as the two teams traded goals before New Zealand claimed the two-goal advantage needed to finish the last event of the Delhi Games.
Australia’s oldest player, 34-year-old shooter Cath Cox, who played a huge part in erasing a seven-goal deficit after entering the game in the final term, was as shattered as anyone.
Cox, part of the team that lost to New Zealand in the gold medal decider in Melbourne in 2006 and also of the 2002 winning team, had chances to clinch the match both at the end of regulation time, and of extra time, with those missed shots set to haunt her.
“It’s gut-wrenching to know that I had another opportunity like (the first) one to win the game as well,” she said.
“But as was pointed out to me pretty quickly, there were stepping calls, there was off-side, so you can’t just put it all down to the shooter on the court at the time, it just feels that way.”
Cox, who agreed it was the longest match she had seen or played in, said it had been a long wait since the 2006 final, and the sting would now endure until the Glasgow Games in 2014, which she did not expect to be part of.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against in a situation like that, particularly if a game goes on so long, to not win it is gut-wrenching,” she said.
“Four years now we have to wait for another shot at it, we were waiting four years from the last go to have another crack at it and that defeat was probably even more gut-wrenching.”
Australia led by three goals at halftime, before the Silver Ferns surged in the third term and again early in the last to take a seven-goal lead.
Then Cox was introduced, the tall shooter raining in goals to reel in the deficit, before missing the first potential clincher.
Tied 47-47 after four quarters and 58-58 after the two extra periods, it went into sudden death, with a two-goal margin needed, Australia reaching 59-58, before another Cox miss prolonged it.
The sides traded another 13 goals in a further eight minutes before Tutaia, fighting cramp, deservedly delivered New Zealand’s gold and Australia’s pain with the final two goals.
“I had to shoot it, my calves were cramped up, I got given the ball and there was no way I was going to miss that opportunity,” Tutaia said.
She had kept her side in touch in the first half with excellent long-range shooting and continually nailed shots in the extended extra period.
Australia took silver – meaning they and New Zealand each now have two silver and two gold from the four Games netball competitions – while England gained bronze, with a 70-47 win over Jamaica.