There is a saying, “With the good comes the bad; that’s life”.

And gosh, wasn’t that ascertained in the East Gippsland netball Preliminary Final on Saturday.

Tears streamed down Stratford and Boisdale-Briagolong netballers flushed red cheeks; for one team, warm salted droplets slipping from blinking eyes were a result of overwhelming joy; for the other, tears were a symptom of heartbreak as their 2023 finals campaign came to an end.

Stratford Football Netball Club defeated reigning premier Boisdale-Briagolong 48-47 in a nail-bitingly close A Grade preliminary final at Bairnsdale City Oval on Saturday afternoon.

Boisdale-Briagolong had the first centre pass and quickly found their goal shooter, Mollie Huts, in the shooting ring to take the first lead.

Stratford would not hesitate to even the score, with a goal from the Swans’ goal attack, Tori Patterson, levelling the game in the opening minute.

The Bombers exercised fantastic up front, particularly through the likes of captain Rachel Weatherly, who scored to regain Boisdale-Briagolong’s lead.

Boisdale-Briagolong captain Rachel Weatherly takes a shot. Photos: Zoe Askew

Speedy combination play between playing coach Sarah Gardiner and R Weatherly, paired with accurate shooting from the Bombers’ goal shooter and goal attack, quickly gave Boisdale-Briagolong a five-goal advantage.

Stratford found Patterson in the shooting ring to close the Bombers’ lead, but Boisdale-Briagolong retaliated with consecutive goals from Hutts and R Weatherly to see the score now 8-2.

Elly Weatherly was a weapon in the Bombers’ defensive third, the Boisdale-Briagolong goal defender frustrated Stratford shooters early in the piece.

Stratford took their time to settle into the game, but when they did, the Swans exercised methodic passing in their attacking third. Paired with class movement from Patterson in the shooting ring, Stratford was able to close the Bombers’ lead with consecutive goals from the Swans’ season-high-scoring goal attack.

Boisdale-Briagolong’s young wing defender Ashlee McDonough was an absolute workhorse from the beginning of the first quarter; her agility, speed and strength made the young Bomber an awe to watch. The young gun was a fundamental player for the Bombers, making countless interceptions in Boisdale’s mid-court and defensive third, and was relentless in her efforts from start to finish.

Hutts and R Weatherly continued to demonstrate their threatening accuracy in the shooting ring, with Patterson carrying the Swans down the opposite end of the court, almost single-handedly keeping Stratford in the game.

Stratford gained momentum as the first quarter neared the end, with the Swans closing the Bombers lead to just one goal.

A final burst from the Bombers in the dying embers saw Boisdale-Braigolong lead Stratford 16-14 ahead of the second quarter.

Patterson scored 10 of Stratford’s 14 goals.

Ashlee McDonough put in a stellar performance for the Bombers on Saturday. Photos: Zoe Askew

It wasn’t just the afternoon sun heating things up in Bairnsdale when teams returned after the break. The Bombers were like bulls out of the gate from the first centre pass, putting away four goals before the Swans found their first.

Tempers flared, and an already physical A Grade preliminary final shifted up a gear. If you couldn’t tell these two clubs were rivals before, you certainly could now.

McDonough made a fantastic intercept in the opening minutes of the second quarter, with the Bombers’ wing defence continuing to turn over possession on several occasions as the quarter progressed.

As an in-form Hutts and R Weatherly furthered the Bombers lead and Boisdale-Briagolong demonstrated threatening movement through the likes of McDonough and Gardiner, the pressure was on for a panicked Stratford.

While some teams work well under pressure, others don’t. It’s either fight or flight.

Stratford chose to fight.

Despite forging ahead early in the second quarter, Stratford clawed their way back into the game, with Swans goal shooter Ashlea Higgins scoring two and Patterson scoring nine to the Bombers’ 10 goals to thwart the Bombers lead to just one at the break.

Stratford was first to score when teams returned to the court, with Patterson levelling the score 26-26 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

A goal from Hutts soon restored the Bombers’ lead, extended by goals from R Weatherly and Hutts again.

Patterson continued to carry the goal-shooting duties for Startaford superbly, shooting 11 of the Swans’ 12 goals in the third quarter.

R Weatherly scored eight of the Bombers’ 12.

E Weatherly and Boisdale-Briagolong goalkeeper Rebecca McKay were tenacious in their defensive role, while Emmagyn Williams led Stratford’s defence.

Boisdale-Briagolong goal defender Elly Weatherly.

Little separated sides as the third quarter reached the midway mark.

Stratford led by one. Scores even. Boisdale-Briagolong led by one. Scores even. Boisdale led by one. Scores even.

Boisdale-Briagolong showed strength across all thirds as the break neared.

E Weatherly made a stunning block as Stratford attempted to feed the ball into the shooting ring, followed by an intercept from Gardiner that saw Stratford lose custody of the ball.

McDonough, replacing Emerson Connolly in the centre for the third quarter, made a sensational interception which led to the Bomber’s scoring.

Boisdale-Briagolong fed well into the ring, a threatening strength paired with R Weatherly and Hutts’ accuracy.

Patterson and Higgins’ collaboration in the shooting ring, along with Patterson’s impressive agility and accuracy, constituted the Swans’ biggest threat. Stratford also proved dangerous in the third quarter through wing attack Coco Henry.

Williams’ excellent interception off Boisdale-Briagolong’s centre pass resulted in a Stratford goal late in the third quarter.

Boisdale led by one, 38-37, ahead of the final quarter.

After a fiery third quarter, with words said, faces pulled, and gestures made that one would not typically expect from a group of women, teams returned to the court for a combative final battle.

Stratford had 15 minutes to muzzle Boisdale-Briagolong.

Boisdale-Briagolong had 15 minutes to thwart a determined Stratford.

The Swans evened the score in the opening minute of the fourth and final quarter, with Stratford forging ahead with two consecutive goals.

McDonough, returning to wing defence for the Bombers in the fourth quarter, was unremitting; her speed, court coverage and resolution unmatched.

McDonough steals a fantastic intercept.

A goal from R Weatherly evened the score once again.

Stratford regained a fleeting lead with goals from Patterson, Hutts levelling the score soon after.

There were fiery contests all over the court as the Wellington Shire rivals exerted everything they could to forge ahead.

E Weatherly thwarted Stratford as the midway mark approached with another settler interception at the edge of the shooting ring.

The Swans ploughed their way to a two-goal lead heading into the final half of the fourth quarter.

A mid-court interception from McDonough, who found Gardiner at the edge of the ring, who fed the ball to Hutts, closed the Swans lead.

The Bombers evened the score with a goal from R Weatherly.

McDonough was indomitable, turning over the ball yet again with another incredible mid-court interception.

Williams and Stratford goal defender Katy Coster increased the pressure in the final quarter, posing a heightened challenge for Hutts and R Weatherly in the shooting ring.

As the fourth quarter neared the end, an on-form Gardiner blocked Coster’s pass from the shooting ring, feeding the ball to Hutts, who scored to put Boisdale-Briagolong back in front.

Sarah Gardiner and Katy Coster in mid-air contest.

With one minute left, a vital interception from Henry led to Patterson levelling the scores yet again.


Stratford had the centre pass with less than 30 seconds left to play.

The Swans moved quickly, finding Patterson in the shooting ring. As Boisdale-Briagolong scrambled to defend Stratford’s sharpshooter, Patterson was awarded a penalty, shooting the Swans’ winning goal after the final whistle sounded.

While it was jubilation for the Swans on Saturday, there was only heartbreak for the Bombers, their hopes of defending their A Grade netball premiership title squashed.

Stratford’s 48-47 victory over Boisdale-Briagolong sees the Swans advance to the 2023 A Grade Grand Final, where they will take on 2022 grand finalists Wy Yung.