By Matt Fotia
Croydon North/MLOC’s first year on the EFNL football field left a little to be desired, but whilst they toiled every Saturday afternoon, a plucky bunch of netballers were steamrolling their way to an unlikely premiership every Friday night.
The Kanga-Rams only netball side of 2019 came together almost accidentally.
On one hand was a group of girls, who had been playing netball together since Under Nine’s, who were looking for a new challenge.
This Saint Peter Julian side had been playing in the LYVNA (Lilydale and Yarra Valley Netball Association) for a number of seasons, more often than not competing – and winning – in the age group above their eligibility.
On the other hand was a newly formed sporting club who had registered a netball side in the EFNL without actually having one.
Luckily for them Sharon May, coach of the Saint Peter Julian upstarts, was linked to club via her husband, one of Croydon North/MLOC’s Veteran footballers.
“We were looking for a EFNL club to affiliate with so we could play in the Friday Night competition and then it all sort of fell into place, that when we were looking my husband’s club was entering the EFNL,” said May.
“I contacted the club and they’d already registered a netball team without actually having one, so it was perfect for all involved.”
Placed in Division Four, the girls soon found themselves promoted to Division Three following some impressive performances in the opening rounds of the competition.
At the age of 15, playing open age sport is daunting regardless of the level and initially the physicality and nous of their more practiced opponents was off putting for the young Kanga-Rams, but soon they adapted and began to motor along nicely.
“They found it a bit challenging at times, not in regard to the standard, pace or the skills, but definitely the physicality and use of the body, it was something they’d never had to cope with before,”
“It certainly improved their netball strength and very quickly,” May said of her young charges.
“But they really enjoyed the challenge, which is was the number one reason we wanted to play in the EFNL, to take that next step up.”
Opposition sides soon learnt not to judge a book by its cover, as the undersized Kanga-Rams used their instinctive on court connectivity to take the division by storm, finishing on top of the home and away ladder by 45% before winning both their finals to come away with the premiership.
“You could see some of them (other teams) look across during warm up and go oh bloody hell what have we got here, we’ll show these young whippersnappers a thing or two,” May joked.
“The girls had some really tough games and they had to work at it, but the fact they’d played together for so long really helped them on court.”
With the essence of youth behind them the girls backed it up the following day, winning the LYVNA Under 17’s Section One grand final as well.
Although the age of the side made it hard for the team to really integrate with the rest of their new club-mates, May was more than pleased with the efforts of the football operation to make her and the girls feel welcome.
“We found it slightly awkward to join in with the functions because the girls are so young, but the club encouraged us to come along as much as possible and tried to accommodate for them,”
“They’ve been fantastic and are keen to keep us involved as much as possible.”
Croydon North/MLOC had registered two netball sides for the 2020 season, but like all clubs, that progress will be put on the back-burner until 2021.