MARYBOROUGH coach Alicia Cassidy is under no illusions.
If the Magpies are to stamp themselves as genuine improvers in the 2022 BFNL season, next Saturday's clash against Golden Square is a must-win.
Cassidy, who is into her second season as the Magpies coach, could not have been much prouder of her players following a near-miss against Castlemaine on Good Friday.
The Magpies finished four goals adrift of their rivals, who have widely been touted as a top-three contender, should and when they get their full complement of players on the court.
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If not for a slow start, Maryborough might already have had its first win on the board, but will instead head into round three at 0-2.
While they ultimately came up just short, Cassidy could find no fault with her players' endeavour and intensity on Friday.
"It was a bit of a slack first quarter and we were down by four and we lost the second quarter by one (goal), so the rest of the day we were pretty even," she said.
"We just need to capitalise on the turnovers we get in defence and not throw away opportunities down the other end.
"Credit to Castlemaine, they have an A-grade this year, which is exciting for them.
"They have a very tall, young midcourt and they performed very well."
A strong and promising effort was powered by defender Eliza Roughead, who is back full-time at Maryborough this season, and has been in superb form to start the season.
The line-up on Friday was bolstered by the return of last year's best and fairest Chrissy James, who missed round one while on her honeymoon, but was prominent at wing attack, while Jordan Macilwain continued to gain touch at goal attack after missing much of last season due to pregnancy.
Cassidy said working on their fitness was a priority after a number of Magpies players were sidelined during the pre-season with COVID.
"Not everyone is playing a full game; (COVID) is stuffing everyone around a bit," she said.
"But we will work on that, every team is in the same boat I guess."
Cassidy said the Magpies would relish a clash against Golden Square, which was the only team they beat during last year's shortened season.
"We're hoping for a win. I've already said to the girls we must win next week," she said.
"We have Gisborne after that at home - going three or four games without a win would make it really tough for us.
"There's a few new players in the team, so we haven't played a lot of netball together, but I feel we are doing alright."
A generally successful day for Maryborough on the netball court included victories in the 17-and-under, B-grade and B-reserve.
Castlemaine coach Gary Cooke has praised a bunch of A-reserve players for 'stepping up' in the absence of some of the Magpies' high-profile recruits over the past two weeks.
Back in A-grade for the first time since 2017, the Magpies moved to 2-0 with their tight four-goal win at Maryborough on Good Friday.
The Magpies led by four goals at quarter time and by five at half time, with that first half ascendancy proving crucial at game's end.
It is the first time since 2014 the Magpies have won two games in a season, albeit they did not field an A-grade team from 2018-to '21.
Only four regular A-graders took the court against Maryborough, with skipper Jane O'Donohue at goal shooter, Tara Ford in defence, and young gun Caitlin Richardson and Georgie Rodger in the midcourt.
Cooke said it was a credit to those stepping up into A-grade - among them Zoe Douglass - that the Magpies were able to secure a valuable four points.
"They did the job for us and Maryborough pushed us," he said.
"Those A-reserve girls were really put under pressure, but they did such a good job for us.
"Luckily they all train together so they knew our drills and court plays.
"We took control of the first half, but the second half was pretty much neck and neck.
"Luckily, it was what we did in the first half that got us the win. Defensively we held on."
For the second week in a row, 17-year-old centre Caitlin Richardson starred for the Magpies, while Bridie Semmens and Ford fought hard in defence against the slick Maryborough combination of Macilwain and Keely Hare.
As a newcomer to the league this season after a long and successful stint with Central Highlands league club Hepburn, Cooke said he was 'very impressed' with Maryborough.
"Their attackers were good - luckily our defenders stood up to it," he said.
"The game was kind of won in the midcourt and it came down to who made the least mistakes.
"I felt we made a lot of mistakes, a lot more than we would like, but we forced Maryborough to make a lot of mistakes and that's crucial in a game decided by four goals.
"Luckily we got away with that one."
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The resurgent Magpies are hopeful of having a full, or as close to full, squad for this Saturday's clash at Gisborne.
It will be the returning A-grade team's biggest test to date and their first match against one of last season's top five.
"I'm confident we'll have most players available and that's what we really need," Cooke said.
"We need our full line-ups so we can set up properly and let the team settle in."
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