When Kate Moloney moved from her small inner-city apartment back into the family home in leafy Diamond Creek, seeking the space needed for an unexpectedly isolated pre-season program, what did she find?
An ageing poster of coach Simone McKinnis on the wall of her childhood bedroom, perhaps?
“I should say that, because it might get me the coach’s award,’’ laughs the Vixens’ captain, a multiple past winner and long-time McKinnis favourite.
“No, I don’t have any Simone McKinnis posters, but I was actually going through my wardrobe and mum’s kept a dress from every team I’ve been a part of, so it was nice to have a look through some of those.’’
Among them: a Vixens' dress from each of her seven seasons, others from Victorian state teams, the VNL, and Australian junior days, through to Fast5 and the Diamonds.
Club Moloney also still has the goal ring installed long ago for Kate and her sister Lauren; a former state under-age player and VNL representative. Let’s be clear, though, that Tegan Philip, Caity Thwaites and Mwai Kumwenda should not be in any fear of their positions. Far from it.
“The netball ring obviously didn’t work too well for me as a junior, because I still can’t shoot!’’ says Moloney. “And I don’t think Simone or Sharelle (McMahon) want me shooting. I don’t think they’re pushing for that. But I might start practising. I’ve got plenty of time on my hands.’’
Time that is being used productively, given the uncertainty over a potential start date for the delayed Suncorp Super Netball season and the need to be ready if and when the first whistle is finally blown after June 30.
With help from dad David, Moloney has set up a makeshift gym on the back deck stocked with equipment borrowed from the Victorian Institute of Sport and retired Vixen, Renae Ingles. There is enough room for footwork drills, Lauren is available to help with ball skills, and Mum, Denise, has also become a regular training partner.
Conditioning takes place via runs around the local streets or the nearby courts where the 25-year-old first played the game - eerily empty now, as all organised sport takes a pandemic pause.
“I think the weirdest thing was going from being right in the heart of our pre-season to going back into training by ourselves,’’ Moloney says. “We would be really ramping up now, preparing for that round one game (originally due on May 2 against the Firebirds), so I guess it is a bit of a second pre-season, in a way.
“The motivation to keep training, that’s not an issue for me. Trying to go back fit and strong is really easy. But it’s not knowing which part of pre-season you’re actually in, because you just don’t know when you’re going to start, and that’s the strangest thing: should you be doing all your ball skills and stuff now, or is it really early on in your pre-season? That’s what we just don’t know.’’
Regardless, there is no lack of communication among the Vixens, as McKinnis and VIS strength and conditioning guru John Tascone plot a program delivered via a daily Zoom meeting at 8.45am. Still, there is nothing like the real thing, or time together, and Moloney will appreciate her sport and teammates even more when normality returns.
As will others. Kadie-Ann Dehaney, currently training with a group of her fellow Jamaicans in Perth, admitted in one group chat that she misses hearing constant reminders from a vocal McKinnis during her footwork drills. The coach offered to provide a recording.
“It’s just the small things,’’ says Moloney. “I’ve spent nearly every single day with Simone for the past eight years - except, obviously, in the off-season - so not to see everyone for such a long period of time is really strange.
“It’s the same with Lizzy (Watson) and Joey (Weston), all of the girls, you see them every single day. But in a way it’s comforting knowing that everyone across Australia’s in the same position of not being able to be together and train together, and we’re all going to go back later knowing that if we can stay at home and be role models for everyone else to do that as well, then that’s great.’’
In the meantime, Moloney is continuing her Deakin University sports management studies, while jigsaws, Netflix and baking have also been on the agenda. The Watson banana bread recipe? Tick. Ozark? Tick. If anything, the famously committed Moloney has been training more than ever, while 'sanity' is delivered by her morning walk and coffee fix.
As to her gut feeling on when, if at all, the season will get underway, and what form that will take when Netball Australia is expected to reveal all on May 31, Moloney is cautiously optimistic.
“I’ve gone through stages where I’m like ‘yes!’, then I’m like ‘no!’, and I’m really positive at the moment,’’ she says. “From what I’m seeing on the news, Victorians and Australians seem to be doing an absolutely amazing job at staying inside and keeping their social distancing, so fingers crossed that we can have a season in some way or shape.
“The way I’m looking at it is that we are going to play and I need to be training to be ready for that, so just trying to be as positive as I can and I know all the girls want to be out there playing.
“The No.1 way we’d want to play is to play a full season and to play with crowds but, to be honest, I’ll play in any way that we possibly can, and if people can watch it on TV, that’s better than no netball at all so I am for any way that we can play and keeping everyone safe, I’m all for that.
“The best scenario would be to play in front of a crowd in Melbourne, but we’ll take what we can get.’’
By Linda Pearce