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The Diamonds’ special pact

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The Diamonds’ special pact

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Sisters in Arms is the Diamonds’ trademark, the philosophy we live by. My induction came during a national selection camp ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The message, which I’ve carried with me, was hugely powerful.

 

Every new Australian squad member is told about the Diamonds’ culture, learns what we’re all about. Whenever we stand on the transverse line before a Test match with our arms around each other, it’s symbolic: it doesn’t matter how many Tests you’ve played, how long you’ve been in the squad, whether you’re captain, or haven’t debuted yet.

 

Everyone’s the same. Everyone’s equal at that moment.

 

But it wasn’t always like that, as you learn when you listen to the stories the older girls tell about when they started out in the Diamonds’ environment. There used to be more of a hierarchy, where the younger players were made to carry the balls and things like that.

 

Some of the girls said they would cry before camps because they’d get so nervous, were so worried about the older players, and almost felt like they had to please them.

 

Now everything’s so even, so equal, and they want to keep pushing that philosophy on to the next generation. They want to make it inviting and comfortable for all of us, so that’s where the ‘Sisters’ idea came from.

 

They said to me, ‘Just be yourself and the girls will to respect that. You might be competitors day to day, but once you’re in Diamonds Land they’re going to support you because you are becoming a sister.’

 

 

TRAVELlING WITH A MICROWAVE

We’re all conscious of wanting to leave our sport in a better position than we found it. In my first season with the Melbourne Vixens, in 2014, I was so lucky to be part of Bianca Chatfield’s team.

 

Bianca has done so much for netball, but still gives so much to us as well. She talks about how much things have changed from when she first started in terms of competition and pay and all that kind of stuff and how professional we’re becoming.

 

Learning from her makes me really want to leave my best impression on the court for the next person coming in.

 

I was at the press conference when the new collective agreement was announced last year and ‘B’ was telling me about how they used to have to travel with a microwave, or how she got something like $1000 a season.

 

I remember she said, ‘We’ve got the young ones down the end of the table who have it all now’, and and I was like, ‘Wow, we actually are slowly growing and growing.’

 

For someone like Bianca to help make this deal as successful as she could inspires me to want to put my best foot forward for our sport. Hopefully I can be on that table one day and we have a new young one down the end and netballers are all fully professional athletes.

 

‘B’ was telling me about how they used to have to travel with a microwave, or how she got something like $1000 a season.

 

Looking back, it all happened so quickly for me – becoming a Vixen, and then being picked in the Diamonds squad that same season.

 

Only a year earlier, I’d been selling programs at the Constellation Cup match in Melbourne with my friend Chloe Watson.

 

Until that night, when we were given two tickets to the game for working on the program stand, I’d never really thought much about playing for Australia. Growing up in Melbourne, I was more into watching AFL and those kinds of sports.

 

The crowd, the big light show and the pre-game entertainment were what stuck in my mind. I was like, ‘Actually, it’s a really big event and lots of people come and watch, and not just at Comm Games and World Cups.’

 

I’d seen a few national league and Vixens games, but nothing like this. They played the national anthem, the girls walked out as a team into the darkened stadium. It really made an impression on me.

 

Julie Corletto was probably my favourite player. She still is. She just had these amazing muscles and I thought, ‘Yeah, she’s pretty tough.’ But it just seemed so far away. All the girls playing were a lot older and so much fitter and more skilful than me and the game was so fast and athletic.

 

What you don’t realise is that with each year of training you’re building up your fitness and strength and skills. When you first look at it you go, ‘Wow, that’s so far beyond what I’m capable of at the moment.’

 

 

 

THE AFL CONNECTION

Jane Searle gave me my first Diamonds dress, when I debuted over in the tri-series in England in 2016. We have a team meal the night before a game and Jane got up to speak about me and what I’ve done and her impressions of me, and I was thinking, ‘How do you know all this?’ or, ‘Wow, that was really kind!’. It’s a really special moment.

 

When we went out there for my first Test, I was carrying Thumper, our team mascot, and that national anthem feeling, like everyone says, it’s just so special. You really can’t describe how amazing it is.

 

Everyone’s singing as loudly as they can, and we’ve just finished the warm-up so we’re all a bit sweaty, but we’re all standing there with our arms around each other. Some of us are shaking, and I remember Steph Wood saying that she thinks she teared up the first time she did it as well.

 

It’s mind-blowing to think that you’re representing your country, representing everybody that plays netball in our country. And there’s a lot! It’s the most popular female participant sport, so if you think about it in that sense you realise you’re really lucky.

 

I do think it’s helped to come from a sporty family. When my brother Matt was playing for Carlton we all still lived at home. I was still at school, but just to see how his football was his job, pretty much, I was like, ‘That’s so cool. You get to go to training and come home and it was what you did and loved.’

 

I would tag along for all of his summer home running and gym programs, just because I was interested in what they did. And my uncle Steve (Alessio, who played 184 games for Essendon, including the 2000 premiership), especially, he’s been a massive support and role model for me. He’s pretty much like another brother, or a second Dad.

 

I can tell when he’s very proud but he kind of keeps to, ‘Well done Liz, good game.’ He’ll send me a nice text message or give me a phone call usually, to have a chat. He’s awesome and even now he texts me before and after games.

 

I love how much joy and happiness my netball brings my whole family, as well. Especially at the Vixens games, my Nonna, my little cousins, they’re all there.

 

I’ve got two brothers, my Mum’s got two brothers, my cousins on that side are all boys. I’m the only niece, the only granddaughter, and growing up we were an active family, so every family event was two-on-two basketball, or backyard cricket, or whatever it was and they’d say, ‘Well, if you want to get the ball you’ve got to fight for it.’

 

My uncles definitely say they’ve given me that little tough mongrel side to my game and they’ll take credit for that, probably.

 

Mum collects everything. She’s got a box of stuff – newspaper clippings, photos, whatever she finds, she keeps it all. She says, ‘You’ll appreciate it one day,’ because she made a big album for Steve as well.

 

And at my Nonna’s place she’s got the hallway with all the kids’ photos up there. The Hall of Fame, we call it.

 

 

THE RISE & RISE OF NETBALL

I’ve played 10 or 11 Tests now, and I feel a lot more comfortable at Diamonds level. My season with the Vixens had given me a lot of confidence, and on this last tour everything was working really well, and the team dynamics were great.

 

Mum always says to me, ‘The bigger the game the more you step up,’ and I think just subconsciously you want to play really, really well and I do love the challenge.

 

I really enjoy tough games and tough opponents, the physicality of the game. Everyone says, ‘You’re getting ridden, and there’s lots of dirty, illegal contacts and stuff,’ but that’s something I thrive on. It makes me think, ‘They’re getting a little bit frustrated, I’m just gonna keep being confident in my own game and pushing forward.’

 

My uncles definitely say they’ve given me that little tough mongrel side to my game and they’ll take credit for that, probably.

 

Friends who actually come to a game say, ‘Oh, my God, that is so cool, and so physical and intense’. They might have only watched their sisters play, and never actually seen netball at the elite level.

 

We get rugby coaches and footy coaches coming into training and saying, ‘Wow, you girls actually work really, really hard,’ and we’re like, ‘Of course we do, this is our thing, this is what we do.’ And the rugby coaches say, ‘You guys have really quick hands and great hand-eye co-ordination.’

 

As a sport, we are building, and I think it comes from having a strong elite team and elite competition for the young girls to look up and aspire to. You ask almost anyone in the country, ‘What team do you follow?’ and they automatically think of AFL.

 

You hope that one day you can say, ‘What netball team do you follow?’ and people will actually say, ‘The Vixens,’ or whatever it may be. That would be a dream to have every single young girl or boy following a netball team, just like they do with footy.

 

 

 

DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT

It was obviously very disappointing when I didn’t get picked for the Quad series last January. I’d received really positive feedback from the previous Diamonds’ tour, although not as much court-time, so it was a bit of a shock when I was told I wasn’t going on that tour because I’d been given specific things to work on at home.

 

I had a chat to Bianca, who said she used to sit on the bench for the whole year with the Diamonds and not get any court-time. It’s very rare to come in and win a premiership in your first year, which is what happened at Vixens, let alone in a starting position, and that’s what sport’s about, having those ups and downs.

 

But I was so determined. Once you’ve had a little taste of that Diamonds environment, and you know everyone’s fighting to get into it, you don’t want to let that go.

 

I hadn’t played against the Silver Ferns either, which is one of the ultimate goals in the sport. There’s that amazing rivalry. There always will be. But once you get out on court, you don’t think about it too much – or I don’t, anyway.

 

Everyone says that my facade is very blank or unworried, that I don’t show much emotion, but I don’t know how or why, it’s just what it is. I just believe that if you’re confident, it’ll all be fine.

 

Even though I didn’t make the team, it was awesome to be part of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games squad in 2014, my first year with Vixens. I watched it at home, but I could see the plays that they were running and the culture they’d created.

 

I was like, ‘I know what they’re talking about,’ and you look at it differently – not just as a netball fan. Lisa (Alexander) always talks about the whole squad performance and you should be proud of being in that squad to achieve that medal. It’s a lot different now. Four years went so quickly.

 

With Constellation Cup done, the Quad series in January is the next thing that we’re looking to build towards. That’s the next one you want to perform really well in and put yourself in the best possible position to be selected for Comm Games.

 

At the end of the day if you’ve done everything right it’s out of your control and it comes down to the selectors’ opinion in the end. So I’ll just have a little time off now, then get back into training, hopefully be picked in that Quad Series team, do really well and then see what happens from there.

 

Liz Watson  -  Contributor

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