When Tongala dairy farmer Glenys Nexhip started taking her two young sons Dylan and Corey along to her Goulburn Valley Netball Association games, there was no hint of where that early introduction to what has traditionally been a female-dominated sport would lead.
It includes, each Wednesday night for the four months from late August, the long drive to the State Netball and Hockey Centre for Shepparton-based schoolteacher Dylan, now 28, and Bendigo podiatrist Corey, 24.
It involves representing third-placed St Therese in the Premier Men’s division of the eight-team MLeague and the defending champion Parkville Panthers in Premier Mixed. It has extended to state and Australian representation, and an enduring enjoyment of the game their mum played.
Netballing brothers. It might be an unusual story subject, but it’s also one that the Nexhips hope and suspect will become more common in future seasons of the rebadged Victorian Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (VMMNA), that was established as the VMNL in 1985.
“I guess being from the country it was a bit out of the norm for boys to be involved in netball. It was always and largely still is referred to as a girls sport, but you learn to brush the comments aside,’’ Dylan says.
“Netball pathways for boys also proved to be quite challenging. Once you reached the age of 12, you were unable to play in the association competitions so there was no netball I could really play during high school.
“I definitely think the perception is changing and I believe this is due to more males playing netball but also more sports becoming gender neutral. I think there is a lot more open-mindedness around the sport now and I believe people seeing what males have brought to the sport is helping change people’s perceptions.’’
The Nexhips, including younger sister Abbey, are a sporty family. Corey, the tallest at 187cm, continues to play footy for Tongala during winter, tennis in summer, and netball during the VMMNA season – as a goaler, mostly, but also able to join Dylan in defence.
So, given that the brothers share a team but not a position, who is the better player? “He will say that he’s better,’’ says Corey. And Corey will say? ‘Yeah, he’s better!’’
Dylan: “Ha – he would say I am the better player, because he would be too scared not to! We are different players, playing predominantly at opposite ends. On any given day either of us can play better than the other, but more consistently me. Corey can choke.’’
As for any familial on-court understanding, or lack thereof, the siblings agree on that, too.
Corey: “He just tells me where to go. In some of the men’s games we used to play, he’d be goal defence and I’d be goal keeper and he used to pretty much tell me what to do. Even when I’m up the other end I can still hear him.’’
Dylan: “Hmmm, I wouldn’t say our on court connection is special, it normally involves me yelling at him and bossing him around! We’ve been lucky to play a couple of seasons as GD and GK together which was fun. I think we make a pretty good combo. And I don’t mind an occasional goal assist from the centre third when he is in shooter.’’
Both have represented the Victorian Open Men’s team, and Australia against New Zealand in Mixed. Dylan says he is unsure if there are any other pairs of brothers in VMMNA, “but if there isn’t now I am sure there will be”, eventually.
“I think the future for men’s netball is bright – I think in Victoria we are lucky to be so well supported by Netball Victoria, with that support continuing to grow,’’ says Dylan.
“The work that VMMNA is doing with the grassroots will allow a pathway to be created for boys so they don’t have to have a break from the game during their early teens.
“I feel men’s netball is in an exciting place and we are well supported by many people with the same vision and who are highly motivated to achieve it.’’
– written by Linda Pearce