SEASONED hockey captain Bridget McLean revealed her winning final strategy just minutes after her latest game.
The plan was to have opposition players at her 30th birthday party on the eve of Saturday's elimination match.
McLean has friendships with many players through her representative teams and long association with Ipswich hockey. But with a final looming, she was quick to give her team every chance of success.
"Strategically, I'm inviting Norths girls as well,'' she said with a huge grin.
While she was only joking the invitation would even out any party after-effects, the experienced skipper was already proud what her team had achieved this season.
"We brought two teams together and we've done really well and we're doing it for each,'' McLean said.
"We're sticking it through.''
The Swifts/Thistles combination finished in third place for the Ipswich A-grade playoffs, behind runaway competition leaders Hancock Brothers and the youthful Wests line-up.
Although Wests were convincing 4-0 winners in the final round match, the Swifts/Thistles team was missing a number of dual registered Toowoomba and Brisbane players.
McLean was unsure if big-match performers like Susie Marcussen and Australian Country under-21 player Rita Boyd would make it for this weekend's knockout final.
However, she praised the effort of this year's combination.
"With people playing dual registration now, it's just hard when it comes to semi-finals time,'' she said.
"We've had to dig deep and the girls really did.
"We were very short-staffed and we realise that, and there were times where we were out of puff.
"But we stuck in.
"I congratulated the girls for the way they are gelling.''
McLean was also managing an injury that had kept her out for seven weeks.
She was grasping a bag of ice ready to relieve the pain in her left calf.
"I've torn muscle off the tendon in behind my knee,'' she said, keen to finish the season.
"It's probably one of the most painful ones that I've ever really had.
"It was playing Norths actually and I was just running. It was just awful.''
As for Saturday's elimination final, McLean hoped the team's experience would pave the way to progress into the preliminary playoff the following weekend.
"We're going in reasonably confident,'' the captain said.
"We have developed as a team so we know we can do it.
"It's just bringing a finals team together and giving players in our team that haven't been in semi-finals that opportunity to come out and experience it.
"I love finals. It's a really different time and basically we're starting again.''
In the other A-grade game heading into this weekend's playoffs, Hancock Brothers beat Bellbowrie 5-1.
Hancocks play Wests in Sunday's qualifying final at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
Norths finished fourth to set up the knockout final against Swifts/Thistles.
Bellbowrie can start planning for next season.
In the men's A-grade competition, Norths wrapped up second spot behind minor premiers Hancock Brothers after beating Wests 8-2 on Friday night.
Australian Country under-21 selection Aaron O'Bierne continued his impressive form with four goals.
Grand final favourites Hancocks warmed up for the finals by overcoming Easts 5-3.
Hancocks play Norths in Sunday afternoon's qualifying final.
Easts finished third with Wests in fourth. They contest the elimination final on Saturday night.
Junior preliminary finals are also being played this weekend.
- Men's A grade: Saturday (6pm) - Elimination final: Easts (3rd) v Wests (4th). Sunday (4pm): Qualifying final - Hancock Brothers (1st) v Norths (2nd).
- Women's A grade: Saturday (4.15pm) - Elimination final: Swifts/Thistles (3rd) v Norths (4th). Sunday (5.45pm): Qualifying final - Hancock Brothers (1st) v Wests (2nd).