A comeback for the history books.

After trailing 1-0 at halftime of the East Gippsland Hockey Association Grand Final, Sale Hockey Club women dug deep to take a 2-1 lead before a formidable Maffra side drew level moments before full time, the scores reading 2-2.

Sale then went on to claim their fourth consecutive premiership, defeating their local adversaries 4-1 on penalties.

Sale and Maffra set clear precedence from the season’s outset as the competition’s best, with the two Wellington Shire sides fostering a competitive rivalry.

Round 4 of the 2023 season marked the team’s first meeting since Sale defeated Maffra 5-nil in the 2022 EGHA Women’s Grand Final.

The season’s first local derby was hotly contested, with Maffra making clear they would not allow a repeat of their last encounter in the Grand Final.

Maffra capitalised on their chances to lead 2-0 at halftime.

Sale levelled the score to 3-3 with an emphatic third-quarter performance, but Maffra cemented their 4-3 victory with a goal early in the fourth term.

They met again in Round 9 with nothing separating teams and at the end of the fourth quarter.

Goals from Sale’s Caitlin Frisina and Maffra’s Kahlia Hillbrich saw the score deadlocked at 1-1.

Sale then claimed a 3-0 victory over Maffra in Round 14, the two teams’ last regular meeting of the 2023 season.

Sale took out the minor premiership, finishing the season with 43 points from 10 wins, one draw and a loss.

Maffra wasn’t far behind, concluding the season in second position with 40 points courtesy of nine wins, one draw and two losses.

With both teams having drawn, won and lost a game to each other in the regular season, a thrilling East Gippsland Women’s Semi Final was in store.

Maffra could not thwart the reigning champions, falling short in their efforts to reproduce their Round 4 success against Sale in a cutthroat four-quarter game.

Two goals from Frisina and a goal from Prue McNaughton sealed Sale’s 3-2 victory over Maffra, booking their ticket to the 2023 EGHA Women’s Grand Final.

Maffra made the most of their second chance, defeating Swan Reach 5-3 in the preliminary final, setting the stage for another local derby Grand Final.

Supporters lined the edge of the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex hockey field on Saturday, September 16, as Sale and Maffra entered the field for the big dance.

Places were set – Maffra was eager to record a different history than the previous year, while Sale was gunning for their seventh and fourth straight EGHA premiership.

Sale battled to a 2-1 lead after trailing 1-0 at the main break before Maffra drew level just at the end of regulation time. Sale prevailed, defeating Maffra 4-1 on penalties.

Sale celebrates after winning the East Gippsland Hockey Association women’s premiership. Photos: Contributed

Sale Hockey Club’s now five-time premiership coach, Mark Benfield, said it was a tight game from the first blow of the whistle.

“We held control through the midfield for most of the match but weren’t able to break through on the scoreboard,” Benfield said.

“Maffra opened the scoring in the second quarter.

“We were able to score two in the third [quarter] to take the lead, and [in the fourth quarter] with two minutes to go, Maffra converted a short corner which sent the game into extra time.

“The whole game was tight.

“While we controlled the game through the midfield, defensively, Maffra was strong, and they are extremely dangerous in attack and were able to convert the few chances they had, so certainly the game could have gone either way.”

Knowing the local rivals wouldn’t be easy to beat, Benfield devised a strategy centred on utilising Sale’s strengths while neutralising Maffra’s.

“Across the board, Maffra have some really strong playmakers, so it was about trying to mitigate them, and a lot of our structure was based on that,” Benfield said.

“I think we have a fairly well-balanced team with experience across the entire field.

“Our structure mitigated their midfield presence because they are really strong through there as well, but they are just so dangerous in the attacking circle.”

Sale Hockey Club Women’s captain Maddison Richards, was named equal best-on-ground alongside teammate Caitlin Frisina.

Sale Hockey Club Women’s captain Maddison Richards, who was named equal best-on-ground alongside teammate Caitlin Frisina, admitted there were nerves headed into the Grand Final.

“I think that is to be expected going into a Grand Final against a team that we have had mixed results against,” Richards said.

“We wanted to make sure we were united as a team from the pregame brief to the warm-up, and I think, at least for me, that helped me get into a good headspace to start the game.

“We really wanted to keep the flow going from our preliminary final game against Maffra – bring that same energy and try to get on top of Maffra early.”

Richards commended her coach and squad for their efforts in getting the team across the line.

“I think being 1-nil down at halftime was a difficult space for us; Mark’s halftime encouragement went a long way,” Richards said.

“I think the fact that not one person dropped their head and that we all gathered around to support each other really helped us come out firing in the second half.

“Everyone had a ripper game.

“Some standouts would be Caitlin Frisina; she always links up well through the midfield and gives us a fighting chance in the D.

“Socks Clarke did a sensational job in goals for our one-on-ones, Jaqueline Southall played an awesome game in our attack, and Abbie Harrington played a great game, stepping up into women’s and scoring a one-on-one goal.”

With last month’s EGHA Women’s Grand Final, Richards’s final game for Sale Hockey Club – for now – the newly-minted premiership captain couldn’t have asked for a greater send-off than winning and being awarded best-on-ground.

“I think it’s always an honour to be named best-on-ground, especially for the last game of the season and my last game with Sale – for now,” she said.

“It was really, really nice to go out with a bang.”