Celtic Dragons returned to winning ways on their away trip to Glasgow in what was a knife-edge encounter.
Those in attendance were treated to a breathless display of physicality and flair with both teams firing themselves at every ball and where the winner would be decided on the fine margins of successful feeds into the circle.
Both sides came out with plenty of focus in the initial stages of the first quarter. Kalifa McCollin netted the first for Dragons and then it appeared that the visitors had turned over possession from Sirens’ first centre pass, only to cede the ball immediately again. It was, nevertheless, an early sign of intent from Dragons GK Stacian Facey who enjoyed possibly her finest outing of the 2019 campaign so far. There were no shortages of opportunities for Dragons as the quarter went on, with Dee Bolakoro making use of her long reach to win a tip which led to a Dragons score. Some errors did creep into the Dragons centre pass and it this allowed Sirens to grab an early advantage at the break.
In the second quarter, Clare Elsley came on for Kyra Jones at C as the Dragons looked to maintain discipline off their centre pass. By this time the home team were really getting stuck in and there were some fantastic contests for the ball with Nia Jones tumbling across the court in trademark fashion! Dragons did seem to tidy up and the visiting bench were jumping for joy as Stacian made two big intercepts in a matter of a minute to help the Dragons really get stuck in. A footwork call at 10 minutes stalled some of the Dragons momentum, but Chelsea Lewis and Kalifa McCollin combined for a perfect 10 from 10 to keep the score ticking over. The lead changed hands a few times in the period, but Sirens were no slouches and they kept a slender advantage at the half.
Kyra Jones returned to court for the third quarter and immediately displayed laser focus to make an early intercept. She led what appeared to be some far more patient Dragons drives up court as the team weathered some excellent play from the Sirens who went 3-up. Similarly, Suzy Drane took her time and was able to exploit some outstanding passing options as the Dragons took the lead once again. There were far fewer flying interceptions or acrobatic tips in this quarter, but rather the team were more focused on slowing down the Sirens run of play and causing their opponents to make their own mistakes. As a result, Dragons took their first quarter time lead of the match.
Going into the last quarter there were no visible signs of nerves as the squad remained composed under Nia’s leadership. Returning to court, the movement was patient, considered and Chelsea took good advantage of the opportunities she was afforded. That first clinical five minutes essentially won Dragons the game as Sirens and their vocal crowd came back fighting to try and steal a famous win. There were some unnecessary long balls thrown from the Dragons but Sirens were likewise guilty – a telegraphed passed found its way to Dee on the thirteenth minute and from there the away bench were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Speaking after the match, Head Coach Tania Hoffman said: “It was a torrid match and could have gone either way! But I’m very pleased that the girls hung on in there and got intercepts when we really needed them.”
She added: “Again, we just need to hold onto the ball for a little bit longer. We just need to stick to our game plan and what works for us.”
Looking forward to Celtic Dragons next game, at home to Wasps on Monday 18 February, Hoffman spoke about the squad’s preparation. She said: “We’ve got a few trainings this week and it’s really about looking at what Wasps bring to the table and how we can counter that, but also working on the things we need to fix.”
Quarter Scores: 14-12 (14-12); 10-11 (24-23); 12-14 (36-37); 10-13 (46-50)
Celtic Dragons: GS Chelsea Lewis, GA Kalifa McCollin, WA Suzy Drane, C Kyra Jones, WD Nia Jones (capt), GD Dee Bolakoro, GK Stacian Facey. Replacements: Lucy Howells, Lucy Herdman, Abby Tyrrell, Clare Elsey, Eleanor Roberts.
Strathclyde Sirens: GS C Tuivati, GA L Gallagher, WA N McCleary, C C Maxwell, WD G Abernethy, GD E Nicholl and GK E Gibbons. Replacements: K Boyle, R Edgar, B Goodwin, N McCall and H Mulheron.