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Three times a charm as Celtic end title drought

Celtic 35
Wairarapa College 21

It was third time lucky for Celtic United, winning a low-scoring Holmes Construction Wairarapa Netball Premier One final on Saturday, breaking a six-year championship drought.

Celtic went into their third consecutive decider with Wairarapa College at the Trust House Wairarapa Netball Centre, determined to end their run of final defeats to the students.

Although the final margin was a convincing 14 goals, Celtic’s prospects didn’t look so promising after a messy error-ridden first quarter, which saw Waicol take a 7–3 lead, helped by some inept shooting from the Celtic shooters, who missed eight attempts.

The switch of Renee Hemara to goal attack and player-coach Elleshia Clarkson to centre at quarter time had the desired effect. Hemara was near flawless in the shooting circle, while Clarkson brought an extra level of energy to the midcourt. That saw Celtic take a 12–11 halftime lead.

The third quarter is often referred to as the championship quarter, and that proved the case as Celtic outscored Waicol 17–8 for a 29–19 lead at the final break.

Waicol started the third period with usual defender, NZ Secondary School international Sovaia Sabutu, in the shooting circle where the students had sorely missed the presence of Maggie Shields, who was away at a national under-15 softball camp.

However, the move opened up the defensive end, which Celtic capitalised on.

Sabutu moved back to defence towards the end of the quarter, but by then, the damage had been done.

Celtic controlled the scrappy last period, running out comfortable and deserved winners and completing an unbeaten season, much to the delight of Clarkson, who felt the final was some of the best netball her team had played.

“Our game plan was to play around with the ball a lot more and use up the time, so that’s probably why it didn’t look flarey and fast,” Clarkson said.

“It means a heck of a lot, even more, because I’m proud of the way we played.

“It was a long time coming, and at the start, I thought we might be having another replay because we were down by four [7–3], but we managed to make a few changes on court and put Renee in the shooting circle and she couldn’t miss.”

The championship victory is Celtic’s first since 2017.

Although disappointed not to win their third straight championship, Waicol coach Keely Riwai-Couch was proud of the effort of her team, who battled hard without their outstanding shooter Shields and came up against a Celtic side, who have been the benchmark throughout the season.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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