As one door closes, more open for retiring Pies star

RETIRING netball star Ash Brazill certainly has not had the smoothest of ends to her netball career.

Since announcing her retirement earlier this Super Netball season, she has had to help her team mates navigate all that the saga surrounding Collingwood handing back their SSN license.

“To be honest it’s probably been the hardest month and a half of my career and I think people assume because I’m retiring it probably doesn’t affect me in the same way, but my end goal was to coach Collingwood in a few years time down the track. I think any coach would like to be able to coach the team that they’ve probably grown up with so for me that’s just changed my outlook on the next 10 years,” she said.

“So that’s been tough, but being captain and riding every player’s emotion, coach’s emotion, staff emotion has just been exhausting and I would say speaking of behalf of Geva and myself as the two captains, we probably haven’t actually reflected on it at all up until last week and the grief hit us both at the same time and it kind of just doesn’t seem real.

“We’ve been in meetings with Collingwood like ‘Why did this happen?’ ‘How could it have been done better?’ In meetings with Netball Australia kind of giving them that information so this doesn’t happen again. So we haven’t really felt it because we’ve just been like we don’t want this to happen to another team or another group of players ever again. So there’s now a feeling of it hitting us and it was funny, it hit us legit 24 hours before our Adelaide game and it’s probably why we were so emotional at the end of it.

“It’s been tough but I think where Collingwood’s at and where players are at, every single player’s got a different experience so you’ve got to allow them to show their emotion and feel it because some players might already know that they’ve got a contract coming up next year, some have no idea. Sophie [Garbin] and I are still not sure if we’re in the Diamonds, you’ve got Geva, Jodi and Shimona all heading off to Worlds, so everyone’s just got different elements that change different dynamics. There’s just so many elements and you can’t support everyone and I think we’ve just been trying to do that. As much as it has been tough I think it’s brought our team closer in the last couple of weeks.”

Although her retirement announcement caught a lot of fans by surprise, it certainly was not a surprise for Brazill or those closest to the Collingwood star.

“I think if you know me it wasn’t out of the blue,” she said.

“I actually told my team at the start of the year, and I’ve literally been talking about retirement for three years and this being my last year, so all my close friends and family knew that this was it.”

“I’ve seen so many players who I idolised only get told they didn’t have a contract so they were forced into retirement, or an injury or their body’s not able to do what they want it to do anymore and they’ve kind of fallen out of love with the game because of that, and I just didn’t want that to be me and so me being an open book as well it was really hard not to talk about it, and we just bought a caravan because next year we’re doing a lap around Australia and everyone found it weird that I said it early but if I didn’t say it early then I wouldn’t be able to tell people this is what we are doing, so it came out pretty naturally.”

“I wish it came out at the start of the season before any games, but it came out with one of my ex teammates Josie and I’m thankful that it did especially now that Collingwood seems to be blowing up.”

Even though she can’t coach Collingwood anymore, it is still certainly something she wants to pursue in the future and even now she gets a lot of enjoyment of working with younger players, especially with the likes of Molly Jovic. She doesn’t want to go straight into elite level coaching, but would ideally like to start in the state pathway system and go from there.

Of all the memories of her netball career, two in particular stand out as Brazill’s favourites. One is domestic, when the Magpies beat crosstown rivals the Vixens to make finals, the other was at international level at the most recent Commonwealth Games.

Brazill has come a long way since the days of watching her parents playing mixed indoor netball and dreaming of one day playing with them, not knowing it was possible to play for your country.

Having played all over the country in her career, a desire to make the Diamonds was what prompted Brazill to leave the Fever and come join the Magpies when the Australian competition moved from the ANZ Championship to the Suncorp Super Netball competition. At the time, only newly married to now wife Brooke, the pair chose Melbourne over the offer Brazill had got in Sydney for the freshest of starts.

Well renowned for her midcourt exploits, her height played a huge part in her becoming a midcourter in the first place.

“I stopped growing,” she said with a laugh.

“When I was in reps, all the way through to under 15s, I was a goal keeper/goal defence, then I was lucky I could jump, so I wasn’t the tallest but was able to get rebounds so that helped being agile in the circle but then when I trialled for the state side everyone was a good foot taller than me so I got pushed out to being a wing defence/centre. Definitely not by choice, because as a little kid you don’t want to be a wing defence, but goal defence was my main position.”

The dual code star has spent the last few years juggling two elite level careers, in netball and Australian Rules.

She gave up a year of competing in the AFL Women’s to ensure she was on the plane to last year’s Commonwealth Games, and after the Australian Diamonds won gold Brazill said it was a sweet relief knowing how much she had sacrificed to be there.

“It’s been interesting,” she said.

“I would say the last couple of years probably haven’t been my best netball. I’m still performing, but go back five years ago when I thought I was on top of the world, I was playing extremely good netball and I still wasn’t able to crack the Diamonds team, and so just looking back at those hard years, what else can I do to make this side? To have the highs and lows coming back from an ACL, missing a whole year of netball in the hub, now with two young kids and then everything.”

“It was quite funny the siren went or I think a minute before Courtney and I were like ‘we’re going to jump on each other, go crazy and get the photos that every person gets when they win a gold medal’ and then when the siren went I literally just dropped onto my knees and balled my eyes out.

“All those memories just kept flashing back and don’t know if it’s either because I’m a parent or a bit older then the other athletes, but honestly I felt like I was present in that moment and that’s something that you don’t know how you’re going to react in but just the appreciation of my whole career and the people who’d got me there so far all hit me at once, and even though I don’t have all the cool photos celebrating, that moment is really special.”

Her AFLW career did not completely come out of the blue, with Brazill having a long love for the sport and having played plenty of it in her time.

“I played footy at school as a kid, and I played on Saturdays with the boys, and I’m not like one of those stories where girls had to give it up because they were a girl and they could only play for a certain amount,” she said.

“I played footy, and then netball kind of just took off so I was able to put footy on the backburner and at that time footy wasn’t a viable career path, so it didn’t really matter I guess back then. When I was playing at Fever I played in the WAFL over there under an alias name, so I just loved it.”

“Any time I could play footy I’d be there and Collingwood made a joke when I started that if I ever wanted to play both I would, and at the time I was like ‘great’ but never thought I’d be able to do it and then an opportunity came up with the club, I grabbed it with both hands and pretty much haven’t looked back and so grateful that I’m able to do it. I don’t think it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t under the same roof, but Collingwood have definitely made it work for me which has been awesome.”

Despite the obvious challenges of juggling multiple elite level sports careers at once, Brazill has enjoyed the challenges but it has taken its toll in other ways.

“It’s been great. I don’t like drama, so what’s been great is that when there has been drama in netball I come across to footy and enjoy just why I play the game, and vice versa if it happens in footy I go back to netball training and it’s just been awesome,” she said.

“I’m just there for sport but I think since having kids I think probably what’s been a struggle is and the seasons have been changing. I’m now 50 weekends of the year out of 52, my family are at a sporting event and so I’m not actually getting that time with my family and that’s probably a big reason why I’m also ready to retire, to be able to do things that we love.

“For me that’s lately been the biggest challenge, but when I look at what footy has done to my netball career, I wasn’t making the Diamonds up until I started playing footy. I put a bit of extra weight on to support my body with footy and that’s made me stronger in netball, so all these little elements and factors have actually helped me be a better athlete in the long run.”

Don’t worry Collingwood AFLW fans. Just because her netball career is ending, that does not mean her AFLW career is coming to an end just yet.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments