Tactix stalwarts exit on high note
Anna Galvan and Maree Bowden might not be able to say they're leaving netball on a high, but high is exactly how they can hold their heads.
Both started their careers in red and black last century and they are careers most netballers would be proud of.
They started in a strong Canterbury side in the late 1990s, won titles for club and province and picked up medals – sadly only silver ones – with the Silver Ferns – Galvan at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Bowden at the 2007 World Championships.
But the last five years have been tough. Both have been involved in Canterbury's two-time defending national provincial championship winning side but the highlights with that team have been outweighed by the struggles of the Canterbury Tactix in the trans-Tasman league.
Galvan has played in the side for the last three seasons, yet been able to celebrate success just four times.
Bowden will play her 64th game for the Tactix tomorrow in Adelaide, but has just 14 wins to remember.
The pair leave when both feel the franchise is on the upward curve.
So why after grinding away and being two of the side's standouts through the tough times, are they leaving now?
Bowden had made her mind up starting this season that it would be her last while Galvan was ready to go last year but was talked into staying by coach Leigh Gibbs and Tactix boss Pete Smith.
"You don't leave something in a worse state than you found it," Galvan said. "And I think the franchise is on the way up, so it's a nice time to leave."
"We've imparted as much knowledge as we can. Anna and I lead from the front and now it's time for other people to step up. I feel very confident there is a strong group of players there to do it, and, well, you can't be around forever."
The long-term plan of Smith and Gibbs was one Galvan and Bowden were both confident would see the Tactix more competitive and pushing for a top-four spot as early as 2014, they said.
This year was about learning how to win, next year about learning how to do it more consistently and 2014 about pushing a playoff spot, they said.
So how hard has it been for players that started in a team so used to winning, where the winning culture was ingrained, to prop up the table year after year in the twilights of their careers?
"It's been so difficult staying in the tough times," Galvan said.
"We played for the Flames when they were first, second or third every year. But that always made me more determined to stay around, in that respect, Grubby [Bowden] and I have stuck with it because we want to make it better, we want to be part of the solution."
It's not until you hear them talk about their old team-mates that one appreciates just how strong Canterbury netball was.
"Me and Jules [assistant coach and long-time team-mate Julie Seymour] were talking about it the other day," Bowden said.
"We used to have walk-throughs the day before the game. We had players like Belinda Colling, Ang Mitchell, Jules, Belinda Charteris, [Vilimaina] Davu, me, Anna [Galvan] and Marg Foster. It was attack versus defence, it was like blood."
What's next and what are they looking forward to most about retirement?
"Drinking wine," Galvan joked. "Can I say that? I'm not sure what's next, I call it positive uncertainty."
She said people who knew her would know she couldn't sit still so was likely to find another passion and throw herself into that.
Coaching was an option and more physical activity, like the six-hour run, bike and whitewater rafting event she'd already signed up for.
Unsurprisingly, fitness will play a major part of Bowden's future too.
"Who knows, crossfit, half-marathon, tennis, I'm not really sure yet, but that's quite exciting," she said.
"I'm looking forward to going to weddings, going out with friends for dinner and not having to go home early because I've got training the next day, just living a normal life.
"I've already got my tickets for the Australian Open."
Although the highlights have been few and far between recently, both say they leave the sport with no regrets.
They've enjoyed netball and while it has earned them a bit of money lately, it's never been a job – rather a hobby they love.
"We've had a heap of fun, we've played for our country, we've made great friends and got to travel, it's been a dream," Galvan said.
"And we've been so lucky, we've played for New Zealand and that's something no-one can ever take away from us."
Tomorrow's game, like most of the Tactix' games, is another tough one, in Adelaide against the playoff-bound Thunderbirds team.
But no matter what happens Galvan and Bowden will go out winners in most netball fans' eyes.