Gabby Coffey arrived in Melbourne from Alice Springs as a wide-eyed schoolgirl back in 2017, ready to board at Caulfield Grammar, but not totally prepared for what else she would find.
“I thought it was so cold. And so massive!’’ the young Victorian Fury and Melbourne University Lightning defender recalls.
“So many shops. I couldn’t believe how many clothes shops you could go to. And just the public transport and all that was just amazing. I’d never lived in a place quite like it. Living near the beach, too.’’
Coffey had accepted a general excellence scholarship to study for Years 11 and 12 that was organised with the help of Victorian Gillian Lee, her coach at the Northern Territory Institute of Sport. Her motivation was part-education, part-netball, with a little bit of desire to experience big-city living thrown in.
“It was hard. You get homesick, and you’re used to just small town life, but there’s so many upsides to being in Melbourne,” she says. “I got to play for Vic (19/U for the past two years) and I met so many really great people from netball and work and even school. It’s been a really cool experience.’’
What was far from Darwin-born Coffey’s first move was also the furthest by some distance. With an Indigenous background from her mother, one of the Wiradjuri people from NSW, it was her policeman father’s regular job transfers that saw the family of six live in places such as Katherine and Tennant Creek.
It was while based in Alice Springs, however, after Coffey represented the Northern Territory at three consecutive 17/U carnivals, that the move to Melbourne – and entry into Netball Victoria’s talent pathways – came about.
What started in the Bupa VNL for Melbourne University Lightning’s under 19 team, became Division One last year, and Championship grade in this one. “So slowly working my way up,’’ she says, having also successfully trialled for the Fury team lead in 2019 by new coach Di Honey.
“It’s been awesome, it’s been crazy!’ enthuses one of the new members in a team that has drawn it players from Gippsland to Horsham, and Altona to Waverley.
“Definitely hard, but just the experiences you get of playing on some of the show-courts, like on Melbourne Arena, it’s so insane. I’m the little baby in the team, so all that’s awesome to me.’’
So, too, Honey, apparently, who is moulding a team atop the ladder leading into the final round. “I love her! She’s awesome. Most of the time after our one-on-ones about netball we end up talking about other things, just completely random. Just get lost in ‘convo’.’’
At 186-centimetres, Coffey is marginally shorter than Vixens’ circle pair Emily Mannix and Jo Weston, and the under-age GK is now spending some of her ANL time at GD. Before injury her ankle last month, there had been what she describes as a “decent” amount of court-time, aided by the system of rolling substitutions being trialled this season.
Coffey’s ambitions include competing in the 2021 World Youth Cup, Suncorp Super Netball, and ultimately for the Diamonds, yet as excited and proud as she is about this for this week’s SSN Indigenous round, Queensland Firebird Jemma Mi Mi still remains the national league’s only Indigenous player.
Why is that?
“When you come from somewhere like Alice, a lot of those communities are very based around football,’’ says Coffey. “There’s a lot of girls that join footy; probably all I can think of is that they don’t get exposed to netball as much as they do to footy.
“There’s so many Indigenous girls that have so much talent. Of course, I’d love to see heaps more girls giving it a go, especially those from Alice and remote communities and stuff, and obviously I’d like to work my way up to Suncorp at some point.’’
Currently studying for an Arts degree, and with a particular interest in global politics, Coffey’s goal closer to home include plans to help conduct netball clinics back in Alice Springs and Indigenous communities to help spread the word.
“I want to really inspire some of those girls,’’ she says. “That’s one of the biggest things I really want to do with my netball, cos I feel I really want to push them to leave and experience the world.’’
Written by Linda Pearce