Magpies Netball coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell says her team’s finals campaign starts this weekend against the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
With fourth place on the ladder and a berth in the post-season already locked in, Keppich-Birrell wants her team to bring a finals-like intensity against their round 14 opponents.
“It’s important to have that mindset – that the finals start now – before the post-season even begins,” she said earlier this week.
“You want to make sure your challenging your players. We want them to be mentally ready for the next few weeks and that starts now against Adelaide.
With one round remaining in the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season, the Magpies won’t take the eighth-placed Thunderbirds lightly.
“This weekend is about to trying to tick off a few things that have held us back along our journey.”
“We want to ensure we bring that defensive intent no matter who we are playing.
“This weekend is a good opportunity to fine-tune some of the things we weren’t happy about in our performance against the Fever and build on some positive momentum we’ve had in the latter half of the season.”
Keppich-Birrell is no stranger to the Thunderbirds, having spent last season as their assistant coach, before taking over as caretaker coach for the final five games.
“I’m actually really excited to go back to Adelaide. I loved my time with the Thunderbirds.”
“I learnt so much there about coaching there and I’m so grateful for the opportunity they gave me.
“It will be great to get back to Titanium Arena and see how the team is progressing. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
The Magpies are anticipating a passionate South Australian crowd with the Thunderbirds set to farewell Renae Ingles; following the announcement that Sunday’s game would be the last of her professional netball career.
“We’re honoured to be lining up against Renae in her final game. We won’t necessarily address it in our pre-grame, but we’ll go out there and play with high intensity. She’d expect nothing less.”
“She is such a professional athlete and a remarkable netballer. It will be nice to watch the Adelaide faithful send off one of the game’s champions.”
While the Magpies wait to play on Sunday afternoon, the coaches may be keeping one eye on Saturday night’s Giants v Lightning fixture, with the Magpies set to face the losing team in the minor semi-final next week.
And while that result will be known to the Magpies before they step out onto Titanium Arena, Keppich-Birrell’s sole focus remains on challenging her team to produce its best netball - which she says they’ve shown glimpses of since the Easter break.
“For us, we’ve been able to build up our team chemistry over 13 weeks now. There’s no method in forcing good netball. It just takes time.”
“We didn’t have that time together in the preseason. We knew it wasn’t just going to happen. It’s about consistency and setting the bar a little higher each week. We’ve seen improvements in our performance because we’ve maintained that mindset.”
One mindset that hasn’t changed for Keppich-Birrell is her willingness to mix up her team’s dynamic on the court.
"I know people love to talk about our goal attack position, but we focus on every player out there. I coach with my gut instinct and I’ll continue to make moves that I think will strengthen our team the most.”
One move that has reaped plenty of attention has been the insertion of Shae Brown into the line-up.
Brown has been a spark off the bench in the last two months, with the dynamic Magpie fielding multiple positions for her coach.
“Shae is definitely a player who knows how to play the role that is asked of her when she comes on the court.”
“She’s an amazing person and even better athlete. What she brings to our team is that dynamic movement. The opposition have to guard her. It doesn’t matter what bib she has on her, she brings something different to the court.
“That can be unsettling for the other team, and I love having her on this squad. It’s exciting to get her on the court and see what she can do to change the game.”
And Brown may well be called upon to partner Caitlin Thwaites in the shooting circle following the serious knee injury to goal attack Cody Lange.
Keppich-Birrell says the injury has galvanised the team in preparation for a tough finals series.
“They feel for Cody. They know how hard she’s had to work to get back from her first ACL.”
“It’s something that is below the surface, but it’s a motivating factor. It’s another little push for them to leave everything out on the court.
“We want to make Cody proud.”
And while the coach is operating on a “one week at a time” schedule, she says she is excited to lead this group into the post-season.
“I’ve got this feeling this group can do something special in the finals.”
“They’ve been on a rollercoaster this season, but it’s on the way up. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter our story holds.”
The Magpies travel to Adelaide on Saturday and will face the Thunderbirds at Titanium Arena on Sunday afternoon at 12:30pm (1pm AEST).
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