Erin Bell was finished with netball after 2018. Or so she thought.
After three titles and 145 games at national league and trans-Tasman level, the dual world champion was certain she had played her last game – anywhere.
Until she hadn’t.
Let’s blame/credit Berwick, the outer suburb where Bell had moved with her now-fiance, Travis, to be closer to his family. Robynn Pym, the netball coach at the Berwick Football Club where Travis was playing (footy), happened to be the inaugural championship coach for new Bupa VNL club Casey Demons.
The question: would Bell like to play?
The answer: No. Definitely not.
A little while later, the next query included the explanation that, in joining a debutant club, the self-described “older player” would not be coming in and forcing a younger incumbent out, but helping to build and develop something new.
So Bell said yes.
“I went to the pre-season camp and then I said ‘that’s it. I don’t want to play. Nuh, definitely not!’,’’ she laughs.
“This was in November. I was just like ‘oh man, I can’t do another three, four months of pre-season, I’ve done this enough, no thanks.’
“They were really good at giving me time, and I think reverse psychology ended up working, because they were like ‘oh, yeah, do what you want’. I’m so used to people saying ‘be here, you have to do this and you have to do that’ and I think I was rebelling a bit against that.
“So when I had someone saying ‘oh no, don’t come to training’, I was like ‘what do you mean? I will come to training then!’’’
A few weeks before the opening round, having remained diligent about her fitness and diet but having hardly done what could be called a pre-season, Bell was in (again). She would, she insisted, start by playing a half, and warned she might be gone before long.
“But I’ve been really enjoying my netball and playing at what I know, technically, is a lower level, but it’s still obviously a competitive level,’’ she says.
“I think just not having the scrutiny and the pressure that comes with the top level, has just made me realise that I’m enjoying myself, and I’m actually OK at netball, which I kind-of started to believe that I wasn’t good enough.’’
Amazing, when you think about it, given such a glittering CV. But the last two years captaining the struggling Adelaide Thunderbirds had been difficult, and her 2018 finale with the Magpies challenging, too. So Bell was done. Or so she believed.
She still doesn’t miss the scrutiny, the pressure, or the lengthy meetings, but what Bell has rediscovered is her enjoyment playing the sport in which, at 15, she made her state league debut in Sydney for the first of two seasons with the NSW Institute of Sport, before being fast-tracked into a Swifts team alongside the likes of Liz Ellis.
VNL is just where she wants to be. A few weekly training sessions. A game on Wednesday night. Enjoying netball again.
“I think without me realising it, it’s actually been a really important part of my retirement process, and being able to get the closure that I probably didn’t get last year,’’ Bell said ahead of Wednesday night’s preliminary final against the City West Falcons, with the winner to play Geelong Cougars in the grand final on 14 August.
“That’s probably why I did end up playing, because I just felt like something wasn’t right with how I finished.’’
So she resumed, at a different level, where coach Pym said it was OK to miss the occasional training session, encouraged some wedding-dress-shopping and the balanced approach, and where some of the Casey 19/U team meeting the friendly blonde woman for the first time asked what position she played. Bell loved it.
The 30-Test shooter/wing attack also got a few “weird” looks at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in those early rounds. “People were double-taking, like ‘what the hell, I thought she was finished, what is she doing?’,’’ Bell quips.
“So I guess the first couple of weeks I felt a bit awkward. But then I just stopped caring. No-one else cares, so you just make this thing up in your head sometimes.
“I mean, that’s where it all started. I have gone a full circle, literally, and that’s my journey, and how I was meant to end. I wasn’t meant to end standing on a podium as a grand final winner of SSN.
“It’s humbling for me. The game of netball is enjoyed by so many and I think it’s just reminded me that there are girls who are playing at 9.45 on a Wednesday night, not getting paid, waking up the next morning and going to work and not getting their sleep and their recovery and their physio and everything given to them.
“I think it just has made me appreciate the career I did have more than if I hadn’t done this. So it’s been positive all round.’’
Written by Linda Pearce