There is a lot to be said for a team whose players genuinely like each other. Doing the hard yards in training is easier if you are doing them with your mates. Hanging around airports, hotel rooms and the team bus is way more fun when you are with your friends.
And, crucially, putting your body on your line for your teammates at a crunch moment at the end of a match is a cinch when you know those same teammates would do the same for you in a heartbeat. Even if you also know they will try to poke your bruises for the rest of the week.
Sure teams can win even when they dont like each other, but in my experience it doesnt happen all that often, especially at club level when you spend so much of your time in each other's pockets.
Eleven years into retirement, my closest friends are still the women I played club netball with at the Swifts. Our friendships have endured beyond the court and well into the next phases of our lives. It is no coincidence that our Swifts team of the early-mid 2000s was so successful, winning multiple premierships, including an undefeated season in 2006.
I dont mention this to simply wax lyrical about my glory days (OK, well maybe just a bit) but rather to try to explain the Swifts' unlikely victory over cross-town rivals the Giants last Sunday in front of 10,000 fans.
To be honest, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out how they won, because they sure as eggs didnt play the best netball. During the match it felt like the Giants were in control the whole way, and that at any moment they would put their foot down and accelerate away from their younger opponents.
But it never happened. Instead, the Swifts hung tough, refusing to back down from the physicality of the battle, and doing just enough to stay in the contest.
Sure they were skilful, but so were the Giants. Sure they were physical, but so were the Giants. Sure they were intense, but so were the Giants.
So what was the difference? In my humble opinion it was something intangible, something you can't recruit for. Sure you can have in place any number of “no dickheads” policies, but there is no telling whether a team will genuinely like each other until you get them together.
From what I see of this Swifts team, they genuinely like each other, and so they play for each other.
The Swifts also like their coach – something that isnt always a given in an elite team. Briony Akle may be in her rookie year, but you can tell she is developing something special. If you think I sound biased, you are right. You see Briony was one of the lynchpins of the Swifts in the early 2000s. Unless you were a massive nettie head you would probably never have heard of her. She never played for Australia, and rarely won an MVP.
But she was a great team person. Funny, naughty and honest. She got every inch of performance out of her slight frame, and was someone who you could rely on to do the one percenters. She made the stars of the team look good.
I am not at all surprised that she has transitioned to a coach, and I am even less surprised that she is in charge of a team that is in a pretty happy space.
It might not be enough for the Swifts to win the title – they will need to get more flow into their game and address their slow starts if they are going to seriously challenge for the premiership – but make no mistake in the close games, where something special is required to win, the Swifts may have a little magic tucked up their sleeves.
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