Di Honey’s recipe for Victorian Fury’s 2019 success contained multiple ingredients – and not all of them sweet.
Training would be harder, more intense. The feeder team’s program and culture would be more closely aligned with their big sisters at the Melbourne Vixens. Enviable squad depth would allow for the effective and frequent use of rolling substitutions, in order to utilise different combinations and fresh legs.
And, from a colourful first-time head coach her players acknowledge as slightly “unconventional”, there was also a determination that whatever else the Deakin University Australian Netball League season would be, it would also be fun.
“We worked hard, and expected them to train hard, but we had a laugh,’’ says Honey, the former Vixens’ assistant, whose able Fury lieutenant and kindred spirit was another former Diamond and Victorian netball stalwart, Eloise Southby.
“I think we were a pretty relaxed coaching panel and I think the players responded to that.’’
Including, notably, spearhead Emma Ryde, who fractured her kneecap on the eve of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season she had been slated to play with the Vixens and was not offered a contract in 2019.
After a call from Honey suggesting that she just relax and just get back to enjoying her netball again, that disappointment was channelled into a 609 goal season that earned the 22-year-old both the league and club MVP awards, as a 50-goal performance in Saturday’s win over the Canberra Giants in the semi’s preceded 46 of the Fury’s total of 54 in their dramatic one goal grand final defeat of the NSW Waratahs netball side.
“I think Emma’s just found that love of netball again,’’ says Honey. “She was a lot more relaxed, and the girls did feed her really well. She is who she is, she does it her way, and you just have to adjust as coaches to get the best out of her. I think we did that and she appreciated that we let her do that, too.’’
And yet, on Sunday night at the State Netball Hockey Centre, there threatened to be a nasty deviation from the best-laid plans. Facing a late three-goal deficit after leading almost throughout, the Fury’s near-perfect season was in danger of being derailed at the last gasp.
In defence, captain Jacqui Newton and wing Allie Smith conferred, and came to a furious agreement: something had to be done.
The first big moment belonged to Ryde, and not for a goal, but for the deflection the league and club MVP won from a sideline throw-in that turned into one.
Next came a handy loose-ball-get from Smith on the edge of the defensive circle, and, finally, a flying final-minute interception from goal keeper Rudi Ellis that coach Di Honey described as the match-winner.
Ball needed. Ball won.
So it was that the Fury’s regular-round loss to the Waratahs would be the close-knit team’s only blemish in a season that delivered the ANL title back to Victoria for the eighth time in the competition’s 12 years, but first since 2016.
“I was just so impressed that no-one lost their heads, we didn’t let them blow (the lead) out,’’ Newton said.
“We all just rallied together, snuck that intercept, and then snuck away with the win. It was a miracle.
“A lot of people have said that a victory like this makes it so much sweeter, because you know you’ve really had to earn it, but I definitely wouldn’t have minded if it was a blowout, because that takes a bit of the stress out of it!
“Either way, I think we were just relieved in the end, because being up all game I don’t think anything would have been more disappointing than if we’d taken the foot off the pedal and let them run all over us in the last 10 minutes.’’
An injury-hit season, combined with the determination to blood and nurture youth and a willingness to maximise the trial of rolling subs meant there were many opportunities for emerging players – and even greater satisfaction for Honey.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I just love working with that age group, because, really, we had a bunch of babies. We had a really young team,’’ she says.
“I just think it’s good for Victoria that we have got a lot of depth coming through, and we’ve given these young one’s opportunities; the decision to develop them has really paid off.’’
Ryde, too, still has many years ahead, and may yet get another chance at SSN level. “She was amazing,’’ says Newton. “We were so happy to have Emma. She’s a star, and last year just wasn’t her year obviously with her knee injury, but she came back, and I think got all the cobwebs out and just crushed it.’’
More generally, it was a far different story 12 months ago, when the minor premiers were eliminated by the Giants at the semi-final stage.
“I think we were more prepared this time that where you finish on the ladder means absolutely nothing in the finals,’’ Newton said. “No-one gets a second chance, you’re all on an equal playing field, and because that was drilled into us so well, we had to face each game like it was do or die, which ultimately it is.
“It’s been a pretty topsy-turvy season. We’ve had injuries galore and it was a pretty fresh team and obviously the fresh coaching panel, and a lot of new staff have come on board, too.
“So it took a while for things to warm-up, but then once we got going it was just fantastic. It was just amazing how well everything came together in the end.’’
Written by Linda Pearce