Rumours of Collingwood’s demise have swirled since the club announced it was reviewing its Super Netball program, but speculation gave way to hard truth on Thursday when the review concluded and the famous old football club handed in their licence, walking away from netball at the end of the 2023 season.
While the news was unsurprising given the discussions that have taken place over the past week, its real life consequences have now begun to sink in. Questions around who will replace the Magpies as the eighth team in the competition are yet to be answered, but the more immediate concern is for the staff and players at the centre of this messy exit.
The Collingwood players released a strong statement, calling into question the leadership of Netball Australia.
“We feel like collateral damage in a much larger issue for Netball Australia,” the statement said. “There is untenable dysfunction and disharmony between administration and the playing group. There is also no confidence in the strategic direction of Netball Australia.”
The statement is stronger still when considering the utmost politeness expected of female athletes in general and netballers in particular. The statement also notes that the group feels the prospect of playing out the remaining games “seems inconceivable”.
In one of the most beloved episodes of the cartoon series Bluey, The Show, little sister Bingo becomes upset when things keep going wrong. Her mother Chilli gives her the checklist she uses when things go wrong in her own life. “I have a little cry,” she says. “Then I pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going. The show must go on!”
With the Magpies currently sitting second from the bottom of the ladder, having just come off a 29-goal loss to the NSW Swifts – their heaviest of the season – and having their woes compounded by this week’s events, this is a team in need of a checklist. Because like it or not, the show must go on. The team has four games left to play in their season and in the life of their club. They have not been able to control the decisions that have brought them to this point, but they now have the opportunity to write the end of their story in their own words.
So where do they go from here? What can be salvaged from the wreckage of it all? While part of the motivation to finish positively for many of the players will be to find a club to call home next year – whether it is the new contender to take the Magpies’ licence or an existing team – that is not the only reason to go out with a bang and not a whimper.
The club’s history is short and hardly covered with glory, but if this group can find the strength to deliver four memorable performances to finish, this is what will be etched into the public’s consciousness for years to come. They can change the ending of their story from one of sadness to one of resistance and determination to the bitter end.
The question now is how do they pick themselves up and go on with the season in the face of all this? It will require digging deep into the reserves of their resilience. They are yet to prove their credentials in this area – resilience is a quality that failed them after an umpiring mistake saw consecutive centre passes awarded to their opponents in round two, ending in a two-goal loss which appeared to swing their season wildly off-kilter.
They must also confront their demons. This weekend they travel to the Sunshine Coast to take on the sixth-placed Lightning. A fellow expansion team, the Lightning are one ladder position ahead of them, yet the two teams are worlds apart. The hurt of seeing this team, also owned by a football club (albeit from a different code), continuing to garner support despite two lacklustre seasons will be palpable.
Finally, they must have the will to finish with strength. This team has tried and failed to be fuelled on pure passion in the past. This time they need to fight and scrap to the final whistle of every game, even when it feels pointless.
The demise of the Magpies is a reminder of the humanity that underlies the cutthroat world of professional sport. Beyond the money, the power, the wins and losses, there is a group of people who are experiencing extreme upheaval.
When Bingo first hears her mother’s checklist, she tells her: “The only one of those I know how to do is the crying one.” Similar thoughts may be running through the minds of players and staff members at Collingwood this week. But once the tears are dry, they must find a way to go on. It is the only way to change the ending.