By David Nagel
“I was very picky about the players we brought over, about the personalities and retaining the club culture. It’s a bit of a sisterhood now; we’re really honest with each other, no bullshit, which is great,” Tooradin coach Kelly Andrews after the Seagulls first premiership since 2006.
The storylines in the South East Football Netball League revolved heavily around one club in 2017 with Tooradin-Dalmore transforming from the ugly duckling to the soaring Seagull of the competition.
The Seagulls secured their first premiership in 11 years with a 39-32 victory over back-to-back champions Narre Warren.
The scale of the achievement was quite remarkable really – especially if we wind the clock back just two years to the day. The Magpies won the first of their back-to-back premierships in 2015, while the Seagulls were licking their wounds after a winless season.
Just two years later and how fortunes have changed.
Coach Kelly Andrews signed on with the Seagulls and headed into the unknown, not fully aware of the challenge that confronted her in 2016.
“I went there not knowing what to expect, being winless, was I going to teach girls how to catch, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got there,” a thrilled Andrews said after the big win over the Magpies.
“There was a lot of skill and talent at the club that needed to be nurtured into a team, and that’s all I’ve done.”
Four players from that winless season enjoyed premiership success, with Ebony Dolan, Alexandra Duff, Stacey Sawyer and club-stalwart Shona Wells all part of the startling transformation.
Andrews brought in some big guns, with Alex and Jess Maher, Jess Cox, Sara Duncan, Emma Iacovou and Bec Kinna all heading to the nest, but it was the coaching of the locals that most appealed to her.
“That was big for me, I didn’t want to come in and replace the whole team, I wanted to coach and not just bring in the big guns,” she said.
“And I was very picky about the players we brought over, about the personalities and retaining the club culture. It’s a bit of a sisterhood now; we’re really honest with each other, no bullshit, which is great. The players are talented but you don’t win premierships without combining as a team.”
Andrews was particularly happy for Shona Wells – the 300-gamer playing in her first A Grade premiership after missing 2006 for a friend’s wedding. Andrews said her team-mates owed her something after letting her down in her milestone match against Doveton in round 16.
“We absolutely stuffed up Shona’s 300th,” Andrews admitted.
The 37-year-old Wells has had a magnificent journey at her home club, a rewarding one that has been the breeding ground for friendships that will last a lifetime.
Shona, her sister Julia, and her late brother Adam became locals in the mid-1980s and quickly found a home away from home at the sporting club.
“We moved to the area when I was about six or seven and I started playing for Tooradin in the Under 13s,” Shona said ahead of her 300th game for the club.
“It was a real family affair back then, my sister also played netball and my brother played footy and our parents got involved as well.
“It’s the friendships that keep me coming back, I never would have thought when I started that I would have met such great people that have become lifelong friends – that’s what it’s all about to me. People like Kate Gillespie, Loretta Iverach, Carla Henriksen, my sister Julia, that’s the core group that’s been there all the way through the journey.
“My message to the young ones coming through would be to work hard, be loyal, and just enjoy it, because at the end of the day that’s what brings you back.”
Cranbourne defender Tara Cecil produced the individual highlight of the year, claiming a third league best and fairest award after a three-vote victory over 2014 winner Erin Clark.
The 2011 and 2013 winner didn’t give herself much of a chance heading into the count.
“No to be honest, there’s a lot of amazing players in our league, and I went away for a few games so I honestly didn’t think I was a chance,” Cecil said.
The performances of the SEFNL junior representative teams was also a highlight of 2017, while the ongoing support of the netball community for Beaconsfield’s Ciara Nelson really tugged at the heartstrings.
The affable 17-year-old Beaconsfield netballer has an inoperable brain tumour, deep in the midbrain, which was discovered after a fall in a netball game in June 2016.
The club has shown unbelievable support, not just to Ciara, but to her sisters Rylee and Jaime, and to her very appreciative mum Colleen.
“This club means everything to us,” Colleen said.
The Beaconsfield netball and football clubs held a fundraiser and raised over $5,400 to help the Nelson’s with their ongoing fight, while other clubs in SEFNL were more than happy to dig deep as well.