All keen for bottle green

By Andrew Johnston

CAST your mind back 12 months.

On grand final day, Echuca’s A grade netballers were well and truly done for the year.

They had made the finals, but in the opening week found themselves losing to Shepparton United to go out in week one.

So it must have been a pretty sweet feeling for the Murray Bombers to knock United out and reach the grand final this time around.

And that’s where Echuca now find themselves — taking on the undefeated Shepparton in sunday’s Goulburn Valley League A grade netball grand final at Deakin Reserve, Shepparton..

In 2017, the team finished the year 9-8-1, and went into the new season with a goal of finishing in the top three of the competition, earning a guaranteed second chance.

This season was an improvement that few at Echuca could have foreseen.

The A graders achieved their goal, finishing with a 15-3 victory and locking down second spot on the ladder and an opening week qualifying final against Shepparton.

But the biggest upside from the Echuca standpoint is that four of the club’s five netball teams will also be playing off in grand finals this week.

B grade, B reserve and the under-17s will all be playing off in grand finals.

But we will focus on the A grade side.

What has played a key role in the improvement of the A grade side this season has been their versatility.

The side has taken nearly every opportunity this season to see which players can play which roles, and as a result they have identified about five different line-up variations that can be used at any stage during the game.

Coach Gina Pearson has said on multiple occasions this season that she still doesn’t know what the best variation of the A grade line-up is.

And that’s an incredible weapon to have going into a grand final against a side as good as Shepparton.

The Bears have not dropped a single game in the 2018 season, finishing on top of the ladder with a three game advantage on the Murray Bombers.

Shepparton have been dominant, and have carried that dominance on with wins against the Murray Bombers on both occasions this season.

In round nine’s meeting, the Bears took a 17-goal win on the road, in a pretty stern message to Echuca that if they were going to press for a title this year, they would have to improve.

The two sides did not meet again in the regular season, but met in the qualifying final.

On that occasion, it was the Bears who once again triumphed.

But the margin had been massively cut down, and at the end of the game the Bears had taken the game by just seven goals.

The Bears’ pressure on the day was the difference in getting them across the line.

The Murray Bombers were improved, but lacked polish and as a result had a number of easy turnovers and made mistakes they would not have made normally.

This is going to be the difference on Sunday.

If Echuca wants to win, they will have to play near-perfect netball.

But we are going to back them in.

With four out of five sides fighting for premierships, the bottle green will be on full show, and that kind of support does make a huge difference on the day.

This netball club is a united group, and we believe that will help get the A-graders over the line.

Prediction: Echuca by two goals.

■ THE rivalry between Shepparton and Echuca will be fierce on Sunday as both the B grade and B reserve Murray Bombers tackle the Bears in their respective grand finals.

Echuca’s under 17 team meet Shepparton United in the early game in what will be a busy day courtside for the Murray Bombers camp.

■ IN UNDER 18 football, Echuca will do battle with Shepparton United for the 2018 flag.

The Murray Bombers finished the season on top of the ladder, dropping just three games.

Echuca was too strong for the Demons in the semi final a fortnight ago, running away with it in the last quarter to record a 43-point victory.

The match kicks off proceedings at 9.30am.