McFadden: Looking back at London
GO THE STINGERS!!!!!!!
Well it has been four months since our fantastic bronze medal win in London and plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then.
Sorry for the lateness of this blog, but I have been flat out with reports, planning and some well deserved holidays with the family.
Since my last blog quite a few things have happened in womenís water polo. The Olympic Qualification tournament caused a bit of a shock with the World champions Greece being knocked out by Spain, Italy knocking out the 2008 Olympic gold medallists Netherlands, while Russia beat Canada and Hungary easily accounted for Kazakhstan. All 4 winners qualified for London.
Prior to the Olympics I was often asked who would be medal contenders and I would say that I believe 7 teams could win a medal with possibly 5 being able to win the gold.
Our preparation for London was fantastic and if we were to do anything different it would only be a few minor changes such as reversing our Montenegro & Varese training camps order. Plus hopefully not having the whooping cough episode. But these things certainly did not detract from the great performances the girls displayed during the Olympics.
Iím sure you all watched and cheered the girls as they took you on our roller coaster ride throughout the Olympics. My recent holiday in Disneyland could not match the ups and downs that the team produced.
The start of the Olympics went to plan in our group with us beating Italy 10-8 and Great Britain 16 to 3. Leaving the winner of our game with Russia to finish first in our group. In a highly entertaining game in which 10 goals were scored in the first quarter we held on to claim first place with an 11-8 victory.
In the other group there was a few upsets with Spain becoming the surprise packet by beating China comfortably in the first game and then drawing with the USA. The USA let a 3 goal lead slip in the last quarter and had 2 extra man chances in the last 40 secs but failed to convert. This then left Spain to have to beat Hungary by 2 goals or more to claim first place in the group and managed to do this with less than 2 secs on the clock. The 2011 World Championship silver medallists China failed to win a game in this group, which set up a quarterfinal game with us.
I am still baffled why they have quarterfinals when only 8 teams are in the competition and after talking to a lot of other team sportsí coaches they found this very strange.
So instead of sitting back resting and watching who we would play in the semi final, as the 2004 and 2008 systems allowed you too, we were now playing in a sudden death game against a team that had not won one game throughout the competition, but still had a chance to play for the medals. Figure that out!
In a very high scoring first half we could not shake China. Every time we scored a goal they replied with one and the game was locked at 8-8 at halftime. This continued on to 10-10 before China scored the last 2 goals to go 12-10 at end of third.
It was now up to the girls to dig deep as everything we had worked for four years was on the line and to make it more difficult we were without Ziggy and Bronwen who had been fouled out halfway through the third. The girls fought their way back to 13-13 with 1.29 left through goals from Beads and a double by Ash. But China then replied to go one up with 58 secs to go. A Holly Lincoln-Smith 5m backhand sent the crowd wild with 35secs left and the game into extra time. However, we had lost Gemma Beadsworth half way through the fourth and now had multiple of players on 2 major fouls.
The first period of extra time saw us grabbing a 1-goal lead but China would not go away and levelled with 25 secs left in the second period to send it into a penalty shoot out at 16-16. However, we had lost our captain Kate Gynther who had now been fouled out. This left us with 4 of our penalty shooters sitting on the bench.
To the teamís credit this was not going to stop us as Ash, Glencora and Holly all scored their goals, while Macca had saved 2 of the Chinese. This left our most experienced player Mel to step up and she slotted a high bounce shot into the top left corner for an unbelievable win and to put us into the semis against our old foes the USA.
Some people have commented to me ďThat was the most emotional game of water polo, menís or womenís, they have ever seenĒ. After the game I told the girls that it was the greatest win I have ever been associated with given the circumstances of players being fouled out, the lop sided exclusion count and the stakes that were on the line.
If China had of won that game they would have played for the medals. If they had lost both their games they would have finished fourth winning 1 game out of 6. If we had have lost that game and then won our next 2 games we would have finished fifth winning 5 games out of 6. I thought sport was about rewarding the teams with the best win/loss strike rate not the teams with the worst!
Standing between the gold medal match and us, was the USA. We started brilliantly going ahead 2-0 before an extra man goal put the US on the scoreboard. At this level you need luck and they say good teams make their own luck and unfortunately for us the luck went with USA in the first quarter.
A lob shot that rebounded off the post and hit Alicia McCormack in the forehead deflected in to level the scores. If things are going your way these either go in or miss. The Spanish GK in the following game had a ball hit the crossbar and bounce down and off her neck rebounding over the top. Nine times out of ten this ball goes in for a goal. Spain went on to win their semi final by 1 goal.
We then scored a penalty to go 3-2 before a USA shot in the final seconds of the quarter got a huge deflection and rebounds into the bottom corner. Instead of it possibly being 3-1 at quarter time it is 3-3 and the US are right in the game. After that the USA always seemed to be a goal or two ahead and we would claw our way back into the game.
By the end of the third we were 7-6 behind. US scored to go 8-6 before 2 well played extra man goals levelled the scores. Then with 1:40 left the US converted an extra man to go ahead 9-8. Fortunately, we received a penalty with 1 sec left on the clock through an illegal timeout after a rebound shot and Ashleigh Southern stood tall under immense pressure for 2-3 minutes to level the game and force it into extra time.
People say that we got lucky with that final penalty, but Ash should have received a penalty 14 sec earlier. She turned to create inside water with 2 players on her back. Somehow the ref decided to award exclusion when in other circumstances it would have been a penalty. So in the end getting that late penalty was what we deserved.
The USA came out strong in the first period of extra time and when they scored their second goal with 3 sec to go at the end of the first period, this proved too difficult for the girls to reel in and unfortunately we lost to the slightly better team on the day.
Obviously everyone was disappointed that we were not playing for gold, but we were still in with the chance of coming home with the bronze and we were determined not to come away empty handed.
Once again we were playing Hungary for the bronze medal, just like we did four years earlier in Beijing. We opened the scoring and lead from start to finish, being ahead 2-1, 7-4 & 10-8 at the breaks. We extended this to 11-8 with 6:36 left in the fourth, but poor attacking options allowed Hungary to gain momentum and with 1:24 left they had brought the score back to 11-10.
An exclusion with 44 secs left gave Hungary an opportunity to level the score. Their first shot deflected off the post and then Macca saved their second shot with 9 secs remaining. I take full responsibility for what happened next, as I should have called a timeout to settle things down, but instead we were celebrating on the bench. The Hungarians submarined Macca and threw the ball in with 1 sec remaining to force extra time for the third game running.
Once again the girls showed their great character and never say die attitude in extra time. Two goals by Gemma, one in each period saw us repeat the performance from Beijing and take the Bronze medal 13-11.
I think the following stats proved how fantastic the girls played throughout the Olympics:
Extra-man attack, scored 30 from 44 attempts = (68%). Ranking 1st
Next best was China, scored 37 from 69 attempts (54%).
Extra-man defence, defended 51 from 82 attempts = (62%). Ranking 1st
Next best was Spain , defended 41 from 72% attempts = (57%).
Field Goals, scored 45. Ranking 1st
Next best was Russia & Italy, scored 34.
When you added the amount of exclusions and penalties you received together and were awarded against you, these were the statistics:
FOR AGAINST DIFFERNCE
China 69 51 +18
Italy 55 42 +13
Russia 63 56 +7
Great Britain 57 54 +3
USA 59 58 +1
Hungary 70 70 0
Spain 68 72 -4
Australia 44 82 -38
This equates to us having to defend on average a minimum of six extra-man more then the opposition in every game.
Since the 2011 World Championships we have played 39 games and won 35. We have played the USA nine times and won five. The only four games we have lost have all been to the USA and one of them was in overtime at the Olympics.
Iím sure everyone back in Australia was as relieved as I was when the girls finally had that bronze medal in their hand. They certainly deserved it and I was extremely proud of the way they continually rose above all the challenges that we had to overcome throughout the competition.
They are a very special bunch of athletes and I am so honoured to have coached them.
Kate Gynther , Alicia McCormack and Melissa Rippon have all officially announced their retirement after many years of fantastic service for Australian Water Polo. They have been the main players of the National team since I took over as coach in 2005 and have won medals at all the major competitions and will now retire as dual Olympic bronze medallists.
Thank you girls for your fantastic service during this period and I wish you all the best for your future, which Iím sure will be as successful as your water polo career.
Until next blog, take care.
Greg McFadden Australian Women's Head Coach
October - 2012 - An eye to the future for our next crop of Olympic stars