Manchester Thunder slumped to an agonising loss to Surrey Storm in the Superleague Grand Final in London.
The defending champions won a final of high drama 53-55 after a sensational Thunder fightback fell just short.
Ultimately, the Black and Yellows left themselves too much to do following a disappointing first half, which saw them trailing by 13 at the break.
Dan Ryan said that the poor start lead to his side, who were the favourites coming in to the game, to missing out on a second title in three seasons. “That first quarter was certainly the difference in the end,” said the coach, who had guided his side to the Superleague final in his debut season in charge.
He added: “When you start a final like that and don’t stick to the game-plan then that’s what happens.
“But credit to us, we chipped away and never gave up for one second. It was so close at the very end and even after that first half we wanted to practically start again. We made some drastic changes and from being dead and buried in the first 30 minutes we got ourselves into a winning chance.
“We’re gutted and it’ll hurt for a while but it is important that we learn from this and we need to come back bigger and better next season.”
The Australian refused to focus on a controversial umpiring decision in the dying seconds, where Storm appeared to incomplete their centre pass. With seconds left on the clock and Thunder just one goal behind, possession for them would have offered up the opportunity to level-up the scores and force extra time.
Ryan said of the incident: “There was a lot of discussion on Sky Sports about the fact that with 20 seconds to go the Surrey centre pass was untouched and we were only down by one goal at that stage so that is a massive oversight but these things happen and there was so much going on, it’s just the nature of the game.”
It was a comeback that had looked highly unlikely following a sluggish and nervous start, with several players off-colour, as basic errors dominated Thunder’s game.
Thunder’s defence was also having little success blocking out a superb Storm attack, with player of the match Pamela Cookey in imperious form.
And Storm’s defence punished Thunder’s hesitancy in attack, especially in the first five minutes, as they surged into a 2-10 lead.
Ryan replaced Ellie Cardwell after half time with Kathryn Turner and it was one of the changes that proved the catalyst for Thunder’s second half resurgence, with Turner appearing to thrive under big game pressure.
Her partnership with Helen Housby, who was a consistent bright spark throughout the game, really started to click by the fourth quarter and gave the noisy Thunder fans real hope that their beloved team would pull off victory.
Thunder’s defence sharpened up in the second half, with Emma Dovey and later Kerry Almond brought on in the final phases to offer some added experience.
They had momentum and Storm began to panic as their resurgent opposition transformed what had looked like a slim chance of victory to a very real one.
But the game was to end in despair for Thunder as the time ebbed away and a stubborn Storm held firm.
However, Thunder will take heart from the spirit, determination, passion and unity they showed not just in the second half of this final at the Copperbox but during their table-topping regular season.
Report courtesy of Denise Evans, Manchester Thunder