After a restless Sunday night following the Melbourne Vixens’ 11-goal final round loss to the Magpies, coach Simone McKinnis started the new day, and semi final week, with a clear message and unflinching resolve.
“Sunday was so disappointing, but you know what? I woke up - well, I didn’t wake up, because I didn’t sleep! - but I was up and at it Monday morning going ‘hey, it’s finals, we will find a way. It is there and we’ll find a way’,’’ McKinnis said.
“There’s a lot that’s good about what we do and we’ve just got to reinforce those things and remind ourselves what it feels like and what we’re capable of. When you’re in a challenging time like this we’ve got to use that to bring out the best in ourselves: that urgency and that desperation and that toughness that you need in finals.’’
Clearly the Vixens will need every positive quality they can muster on Sunday at the State Netball and Hockey Centre, when one of two teams to beat them twice this season attempts a three-peat in the young but already engrossing Victorian rivalry.
The Magpies won their last three matches and enough bonus points to pinch fourth place from the Giants in the dramatic last quarter of the season. The Vixens dropped their last three, while assured of the top three finish that has given them hosting rights, if not the double chance.
Neither Melbourne team has won a final in the three years of Suncorp Super Netball, and McKinnis is well aware of the importance of her team - minor premiers in 2017 and a narrow, injury-cruelled fifth in 2018 - being the first.
“At the start of this season we saw ourselves playing finals, but I think the big step for us is winning finals,’’ she said. “That is the challenge for us, and the Magpies are one of the in-form teams at the moment, so it is a big test, but that is the step that has been missing for us - being able to succeed in finals.’’
A key this time will be what McKinnis describes as “adapting and adjusting out on court to what’s happening around us’’. It stems back to execution and decision-making under the type of pressure Collingwood brought in round 14, for a team known for its slick ball movement must also accept when it needs to find another way.
“In attack, when we can move the ball quickly, it’s great, and we do that as well as anybody, but it’s our ability to just recognise what’s happening and be able to slow it down and play it with smarts as well, that’s where we’ve probably come unstuck a bit,’’ McKinnis says.
“The defence has been pretty consistent and pretty solid, and the defence end is as hard on themselves as anyone. Probably on the weekend we didn’t dictate and were not as daring as we wanted, but I think that we’ve been consistently able to get some ball.
“We’ve just really got to use the excitement of heading into finals. That’s the perfect opportunity to bring your best stuff. So we’re looking to have that energy and that intensity and that purpose about what we do, which was probably lacking a little bit on the weekend.’’
There was no time to waste in plotting the turnaround, given the unusual circumstance of the teams meeting twice within the space of eight days, and the third time in nine rounds.
Yet the extended focus on one opponent may be a good thing in many ways, for however sleepless in Geelong the coach may have been, she is wide awake to the fresh and invigorating possibilities ahead.
“From a coaching perspective it’s hard but it’s also exciting, because that’s your challenge as a coach and it’s not just the technical, it’s your ability to be able to turn that around, to change things, to lead the group forward again,’’ she said. ”I think that’s the challenge of coaching, so you have to embrace it and love it.’’
There was nothing tangible, like a ladder position, to play for last week, while the Magpies were almost treating each separate quarter like an elimination duel, so slim was the margin for error. McKinnis does not believe complacency was an issue, “but there’s certainly a hell of a lot to play for going into this game, and from my perspective, it’s all there. It’s all there for the taking’’.
The Vixens gathered on Monday in the middle of their individual review sessions for a short group discussion that has been described as a full-stop. Regular season over. The chance for a special September experience ahead.
It was reinforced that the Vixens had earned the right to play finals and host this one by their performances, and that even if the timing of the recent losses was not ideal, all that matters is still there is to be won.
Asked what was discussed, champion wing defence Renae Ingles emphasised another clear message: “That it’s finals time. Let’s get excited!’’.
Written by Linda Pearce