Suncorp Super Netball

AFL misses the mark with last-minute draw change

On Saturday afternoon, Suncorp Super Netball 2021 came to a head with the NSW Swifts triumphing over their NSW rivals GIANTS Netball in a Grand Final for the ages.

To have the two NSW teams make it so far and provide such incredible entertainment along the way was a great source of pride. It was the culmination of months of personal sacrifice, hard work and chaotic last-minute travel arrangements that became the norm during this pandemic.

And yet, when the Swifts finally lifted that trophy over their heads, some of that shine was perhaps taken away by the scheduling of another sport they and their opposition share significant ties with.

As the Swifts and GIANTS battled it out in their Grand Final, the AFL Finals fixture resulted in a showdown between their brother teams, the Swans and GWS Giants, kicking off right as things started to heat up in the netball.

The fixture clash came after the AFL ditched its pre-finals bye on August 15.

It was a big blow to fans of these teams, given the strong ties between Swifts and Swans, and Giants and… GIANTS.

It was also a big blow to Suncorp Super Netball, the sport being robbed of a fantastic opportunity to entice locked-down NSW sports fans and showcase what makes netball such a thrilling sport to follow.

No consultation went into this decision – as confirmed by Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan in an interview with Sydney Morning Herald -, and despite the best efforts of teams and fans to call attention to the issue, there was not much that could be done.

Yes, in the age of smartphones and streaming many people could watch both. But the reality is, many won’t have.

NSW could have had the chance to promote both sports and use the rare opportunity of a high-stakes clash between these franchises to create cross-code interest.

A doubleheader with the pride of two GIANTS teams on the line? The chance to encourage the fans of one code to take interest in the other?

Not to be, unfortunately.

When it came down to choosing between the two though, there were some compelling reasons why viewers should’ve taken the chance to check out the Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final over the clashing AFL Finals match.

Even by Grand Final standards, this was one that held real weight behind it.

These teams were forced to move their entire operations constantly- at one point no less than four times in one month as a result of the pandemic.

Teams, players and even a head coach were left behind and forced to miss games as COVID-19 restrictions changed practically overnight and borders locked some out without the kind of special exemptions often so readily given to a lot of other sports.

They were cut off from families and friends, often unsure how far ahead the season would last or where their next game would come from. And all the while they had to watch all of us back home undergo a significant lockdown that’s currently hitting 800-1000 cases a day.

Such relocation doesn’t come cheap either, and Netball NSW had to bear some major financial costs to get these teams where they need to go.

Unlike AFL, NRL or many other more male-dominated sports, Netball doesn’t have the most exhaustive budgets to fall back on when things get tough.

Then there’s the historic nature of this clash and the heavy legacy that these teams and the women who lead them carried on their shoulders.

Back when the Swifts only represented Sydney some two decades ago, it was current GIANTS Netball head coach Julie Fitzgerald who won the Swifts their first-ever premiership trophies.

She did this beside a young woman named Briony Akle, who graduated from playing in that classic Swifts yellow to running the team in her own right.

It was a showdown between master and apprentice, with all of the technical skill and competitive play you might expect from such an encounter.

When you balance the significance of the occasion and all it took to get there, this really was an unmissable event.

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