Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander declared Australia’s Netball World Cup triumph a greater achievement than last year’s Commonwealth Games gold medal, because her players pulled it off under intense pressure at home.
The defending world champions defeated arch-rivals New Zealand 58-55 in a fiery and physical decider in Sydney on Sunday.
It cemented the Diamonds’ 11th trophy from 14 world titles since 1963, and their third in a row.
The triumph also wrote the latest chapter in the sport’s longest and fiercest rivalry, in front of a world-record 16,752 crowd at Allphones Arena.
Amid the excitement, laughter and tears, Alexander finally admitted the expectation and inevitable hype surrounding the event had taken its toll on both herself and the players.
While the support from fans was magical, she said it rendered this particular achievement so much more gruelling than Glasgow, where Australia broke their 12-year gold-medal drought.
“At a World Cup that was enormously difficult, at home actually is harder,” she said.
“I have never wanted to say that before this time, but if I’m completely honest with you, it was much more difficult than Comm Games.
“The spotlight is on us, the expectations were on us. And that was a great challenge to overcome.
“I just applaud the players and the way the staff and our team behind the team handled all of that pressure, particularly after the loss last week to New Zealand.”
Alexander also lauded her fearless squad for holding the sport’s two most coveted titles in the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games for the first time since 1998-99.
“The back-to-back nature – there’s nothing harder in sport than being able to repeat success.”
This particular instalment came in unusual circumstances for the Australians, after their upset loss to the unfancied world No.2 Silver Ferns in pool play a week ago fuelled suggestions the home country’s sustained dominance may have come to an end.
But fired up from defeat, the hosts were both tenacious and defensively relentless throughout Sunday’s rematch.
Sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett led the way with 47 goals from 50 attempts, combining nearly flawlessly with West Coast Fever teammate and goal attack Natalie Medhurst despite hustling Kiwi captain Casey Kopua at keeper.
Usually prolific New Zealand goal attack Maria Tutaia couldn’t quite get her eye in from her favourite spot at the edge of the circle.
She did put away a few signature deadly long bombs (38 goals from 53 attempts), but her efforts were offset by a brutal display from Diamonds captain and goal keeper Laura Geitz.
Geitz was ferocious against a nervy-looking Bailey Mes, constantly in the hunt and nailing a game-high nine deflections against the flow of play, even taking out centre Laura Langman in the process.
The Kiwis found their rhythm and surged to shorten the deficit to four goals during an epic third quarter, but simply couldn’t flick the Aussies’ switch.
Geitz said the occasion had been a long time coming.
“It hasn’t just been the last 10 days of netball, it’s been the work that’s been put in by every single player in this team, every single coach and the people behind the scenes for a very long time.
“That moment when the final whistle blows, you’re overcome with emotion of the sacrifices, the things you’ve put yourself through.
“Each and every one has had different challenges at different times, and now we can all just enjoy the biggest reward together.”