Magic knocked out in semi by Firebirds

AARON GOILE
Last updated 22:17 30/06/2013
Romelda Aiken
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
FULL STRETCH: Leana De Bruin can't quite get a hand on the ball as Romelda Aiken stretches to take in a pass.

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Just like that, the Magic's dream is over.

There was to be no fairytale finish like last year for the defending trans-Tasman league champions, beaten 53-50 by the Queensland Firebirds in the minor semifinal in Hamilton last night.

The Magic had made a habit of coming back from nowhere but last night at Claudelands Arena, their poor start ended up biting them.

With a lack of execution from the hosts on attack, the Firebirds got out to a stunning 6-0 lead to silence the sellout 4269 crowd and that proved to be a killer blow as they never relinquished their advantage.

It sends long-serving coach Noeline Taurua out on a sad note, though she admitted it wasn't the worst loss she had suffered in her 11 years at the Magic.

At the press conference she was quick to say that it had already sunk in that this was it for her, the journey had finally ended, but she was still unsure at that point what she was going to say to the team in the changing room afterwards.

Captain Laura Langman said it felt like the end of an era in some ways and with speculation rife about some of the seasoned campaigners leaving, Langman did little to dispel the rumours about a move to the Mystics.

"There's been a core of us that have been together for a while and who knows what's going to happen tomorrow or the next day," she said. "But in saying that, very proud to have led the team for X amount of years and have played with such great players and have played under Noels and our management. So hopefully there's plenty more seasons left in the tank."

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Taurua said there would be some clear lessons her players would take from the match and praised the performance of the Queenslanders.

"I thought they were very impressive. They were tough not only physically, but attitude wise, in the head."

Giant goal shoot Romelda Aiken was instrumental, with her 1.96m frame able to twist and turn and reel in plenty of ball from all angles.

The Jamaican shot 40/46 and also pulled down four quality rebounds.

The ever-reliable Natalie Medhurst proved the perfect foil, netting 13 from 17.

While Magic shooters Irene van Dyk (27/28) and Ellen Halpenny (23/26) were accurate, they didn't get the same quality of ball to work with, as Firebirds wing attack Chelsea Pitman and centre Kim Ravaillion did a fine job in getting the ball through court.

While the defensive duo of Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin put in a massive effort, they, in the end, were no match for Aiken, who became the first player to go past 3000 goals in the competition.

Langman admitted the Firebirds were a quality side and that "it's very hard to play catch up netball".

"I certainly think the heart was out there, everyone left it out there on the court. So it certainly wasn't a lack of want, we just didn't have that punch through," she said.

 "That's finals netball, there's a lot riding on it, third and fourth, it's do or die, and there are a lot of nerves."

The Firebirds won the first quarter 13-8 but the Magic clawed their way back to go to halftime down 25-24 and despite their best efforts seeing them in with a chance of overturning a five-goal three-quarter time deficit, they were just outplayed.

The visitors' skipper Laura Geitz admitted her side seem to play better away from home, with the girls clicking together more, and they will hope that is the case again on Sunday when they travel to Melbourne to take on the Vixens in the preliminary final.

The Vixens yesterday lost 49-39 to the Thunderbirds in Adelaide, meaning next Sunday's grand final will be in the South Australian capital.

- Stuff

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