Celtic Dragons announced themselves in style on their debut at the British Fast5 All-Stars competition in London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday 12 October. The franchise had qualified for the sold-out spectacle for the very first time in its history in the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague season and made an instant impression at the tournament, broadcast live on Sky Sports.
First up for Celtic Dragons was Team Bath. The 5-time Superleague champions posed a big challenge but Tania Hoffman’s Fast5 Dragons were quick into stride, Lucy Herdman hitting a 5 pointer in the first minute of the match to set the tone. Rebekah Robinson soon followed with a 3 pointer of her own before Hoffman hit the golden buzzer to activate the Dragons’ powerplay. No sooner had she done this than Herdman hit another 5 pointer – doubled for 10 – to set Dragons on a path to a debut victory, winning 40-28 in a dominant display.
Dragons’ tails were up ahead of their second game, this time against Surrey Storm. However, this time round Dragons were unable to make such a powerful start and it was a whole 6 minutes before the team could find the target. Storm had raced into a 28-nil lead and Dragons fans feared the worst before once again Hoffman punched the buzzer to set-up the team’s powerplay opportunity. Dragons then showed incredible clutch to score instantly and then build a big score to draw level 30-all. However, the slow start took its toll and Storm were just able to squeeze past, winning 41-35.
Despite this loss, Dragons’ earlier win was enough to set-up an opportunity at reaching the semi-final. To do so, they had to win a make-or-break match against Saracens Mavericks. By this point, you could see that the team had become far more comfortable with the frantic nature of the game and they were clinical in taking their opportunities against the Mavericks. The two teams were tied in the early part of the game before Mavericks hit their golden buzzer. Dragons then played some outstanding defensive netball to keep a clean sheet throughout Mavericks’ powerplay before responding with their own, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and winning 38-29.
This second victory set-up a formidable semi-final against past Fast5 champs, Loughborough Lightning. Lightning, who had gone unbeaten in the tournament, were vulnerable early on as Dragons went 6-nil up. Loughborough went ahead on their powerplay but Dragons were hot on their heels and with only 2 minutes left it was 30-all. On the 11th minute, Lightning got a 5 pointer and looked to keep Dragons out, but the team turned the ball over and scored 3 to trail by just 2 points. Dragons then worked the ball into the 3 point zone with barely seconds remaining and Lightning infringed to give Dragons a shot at the game – and the final. Unfortunately, the attempt rolled agonisingly off the ring and the full-time whistle went.
Despite getting so very close to the final, Celtic Dragons were a smash hit at their very first Fast5 All-Stars competition. Shooter Lucy Herdman won many, many plaudits online for her long range efforts and captain Kyra Jones had a memorable final send-off for the final game in a Dragons dress.
Head coach, Tania Hoffman was equally impressed with her team’s incredible efforts on the day. Hoffman said: “It was a fabulous experience to play in the British Fast5 All-Stars for the first time at a full Copper Box Arena.
“Some of our players had never played the Fast5 format before but I was really impressed with how they adapted really quickly. The team put out some great performances and there was great flow through the court. Our shooting was spectacular and our defence was ruthless!”
“We’ve been blown away by the support given to the Celtic Dragons by not only our own fans but also other franchises and their supporters too. Matchroom put on a wonderful event and we will work tirelessly to qualify for next year’s edition!”
Celtic Dragons Fast5 squad:
Lucy Herdman, Amy Clinton, Rebekah Robinson, Kyra Jones (Capt), Sophie Morgan, Paige Kindred, Dee Bolakoro, Leila Thomas, Abby Tyrrell and Latanya Wilson.
Wasps Netball 30-22 Severn Stars
Manchester Thunder 15-31 Loughborough Lightning
Team Bath 28-40 Celtic Dragons
Surrey Storm 31-17 Saracens Mavericks
Wasps Netball 20-48 Loughborough Lightning
Celtic Dragons 35-41 Surrey Storm
Severn Stars 14-27 Manchester Thunder
Team Bath 23-36 Saracens Mavericks
Wasps Netball 27-20 Manchester Thunder
Celtic Dragons 38-29 Saracens Mavericks
Surrey Storm 28-35 Wasps Netball
Loughborough Lightning 35-33 Celtic Dragons
Wasps Netball 35-61 Loughborough Lightning