A bunch of awesome memories
Netball champ calls time on careerPATRICK DAWKINS
Melissa Brady, one of Marlborough's finest netballers, has left the province with a bag full of fond memories, trophies and sadness at leaving good friends.
The Tasman, Marlborough and long-time Smog premier grade defender played her last game in the region on Saturday and this week left for Auckland with her family of three children, aged 5 to 11, and husband Rob who has taken up a new job in the city.
"I'm going to miss all the people involved with Marlborough netball," said Brady. "I've played lots of netball all over the country and my highlights would be the people involved in Marlborough and the grassroots sort of feel."
Had she remained in Blenheim until the end of the season, it would probably have been her last as a player. But the prospect of competing in a new, much-larger city has Brady excited about taking to the courts for at least one more year.
She grew up playing the game in Marlborough and made her premier debut as a teenager in the mid 1990s for the now-disbanded Awarua club. "I first played with my mother, we were playing on Saturdays. I suppose sport in general was more social then, you stayed late and mingled."
She moved out of Marlborough for most of her twenties, but returned six years ago with Smog and went on to represent both Marlborough and Tasman. She has missed just one season since her return to Marlborough, when she was pregnant with her third child.
In that time the tenacious defender has picked up an impressive list of accolades including being named Marlborough Netballer of the Year three times, Most Outstanding Defence Player four times and has won the Marlborough Express Trophy for premier netballer of the year twice.
Since her teenage days on court, Brady says she has seen huge changes in the game locally but the most noticeable is how much younger premier players are now.
"[In the mid 1990s] I was the youngest, there were a few of us who played young but the ages that were playing were generally 30-plus. Whereas these days, it's all young girls and we have to keep up with the young ones."
Brady enjoys the youthful injection into premier ranks though. She said when she first started in the grade it would have been unthinkable to have an all-schoolgirl team involved, as they are this season. "Marlborough Girls' [College] are extremely competitive, they have a pretty talented wee team."
As regards the men's team in the grade, she believes the current setup is to no-one's advantage. "The men were always really good when we were playing Tasman national stuff. For the girls that played at national level we liked the men in there because we were up against tough competition . . . now that we are not playing nationals and the boys are, they have a stronger team than they used to field.
" It's not benefiting anyone really, the men are not getting pushed," Brady explained.
During her time away from Marlborough, Brady represented Wellington and, on her return, playing for Tasman allowed her to continue at that higher level. "I loved Tasman, it was nationals and you got to go up against the rest of the country and you're pushing yourself a lot harder."
The Smog defender, who was also a committee member, says the club is loyal and supportive. The St Mary's Primary School old girl has helped her club to its fair share of triumphs in recent years, winning the Tasman Trophy this season and the Marlborough competition in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
But it is the 2012 season that Brady will long remember.
"We went the whole season unbeaten, then lost in the final by one . . . we had five in the team who were away training for nationals, we had a full on weekend and we trained Thursday, Friday, Saturday and came back for a final on Sunday and we were all absolutely exhausted. We had had this amazing coach [Di Saul] and this amazing season, then completely blew out and lost the final."
There has been some talk about the proud Smog player flying home to play in finals matches this year, but the mother of three quashed those ideas, declaring she would be too busy in Auckland trying to settle her family.
Brady has great confidence in her team's ability to finish off the season without her though.
"Go Smog for the final. I have absolutely no doubt that they will be there and win it."