THE Australian Stingers’ opening round win at the London Olympics was a relief for their coach, Cronulla’s Greg ‘‘Dumper’’ McFadden.
The women’s water polo team accounted for Italy 10-8, with Cronulla and NSWIS athlete Nicola Zagame scoring twice and clubmate Holly Lincoln-Smith chipping in for a goal as well.
In all, seven Stingers earned their name on the scorer’s sheet, a statistic which delighted McFadden, an Australian Olympian with the 1992 men’s water polo team.
Zagame and the more experienced players shone, and McFadden was delighted. ‘‘I’m sure these players will play very vital roles in not only helping the other team members relax and settle into village life, but also keep calm heads when the games get tight as the tournament becomes sudden death,’’ he said.
McFadden knew the importance of beating the dangerous Italy first up. Both countries are past Olympic champions. Australia won gold in 2000 when the women’s game made its Olympic debut, while Italy took the title four years later in Athens.
‘‘It is a great result, any win [at the Olympics] is a good win. Our extra-man defence was excellent and the girls really worked for each other,’’ he said.
The Stingers dominated the majority of exchanges in the opening half but a flurry of outside shots by the Italians had the scores level at half-time.
The Australians then blew open the game with some fantastic centre back play and speedy counterattack to stun the Italians. ‘‘Ziggy’’ Zagame’s amazing one-on-one steal and subsequent counterattack goal in that period was one of the highlights, along with a reassuring performance by custodian and fellow Cronulla clubmate Alicia McCormack.
Captain Kate Gynther also scored three goals.
Since switching from player to coach, McFadden has drawn on his own international experience — and some big-time mentors.
He began coaching second, third and occasionally first grade matches back at his home club Cronulla while he was with the AIS.
AIS coach Charles Turner first nominated him for an AIS coaching scholarship. McFadden moved up the ranks, and has had to work hard since he took over the reins of the top Australian women’s team in 2005.
He took on a squad that had only five women remaining from the Athens Olympics campaign — and none from the side that won gold at the Sydney Olympics.
The squad had an average age of 22 and most had little international experience. McFadden’s first goal was to increase the depth of the squad. He did this by changing up the team from tournament to tournament, creating an atmosphere of competition both within and around the team.
McFadden cites Turner and former Cronulla head coach, Bruce Falson, as major influences on his coaching career.
Having seen his 2008 women’s team take bronze at the Beijing Olympics, McFadden is quietly confident this team can go better in London.
‘‘We have a great mixture of experience and hopefully youthful excitement and energy,’’ he added.
‘‘The squad also has nine players who are capable of marking the opposing team’s centre forwards.’’
Important? ‘‘The team knows that the Olympics will be won by the team with the strongest defence,’’ he said.
The Australian women’s water polo team’s next game was against Britain early this morning.
Gymea Bay’s sprint cyclist Kaarle McCulloch and team-mate Anna Meares begin racing the qualifying stage of the Team Sprint from 1am tomorrow, Friday August 3 (finals two hours later).
On Saturday from 6.25am Sutherland middle distance champion Eloise Wellings races the women’s 10,000 metres
On Sunday from 6.25am StGeorge’s Ben
St Lawrence will race in the men’s 10,000.