The annual Sargeant McKinnis Cup will go halfway to being decided when the undefeated Melbourne Vixens play the second-placed NSW Swifts at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday.
The Sargeant is Annie, former national and NSW captain and shooting great, who will watch the game in her role as a national selector and then retreat for the final deliberations on which 12 players - up to six of them, potentially, Vixens - will head to Liverpool for the Netball World Cup in July.
The McKinnis, well, we know her well: as the long-serving Australian and Victorian great, now Vixens coach, whose Diamonds’ debut back in 2006 was when Sargeant was the leader and best-known face of the game.
“It’s a beautiful acknowledgement,’’ says Sargeant of the joint names on a trophy that perpetuates a longstanding rivalry between netball’s two most populous and powerful states.
“I know the teams play really hard, they play hard week in, week out, but if you were a Vixen and it twigged that it was something in honour of your coach, I reckon it’d give you extra legs.''
The Vixens regained the trophy in 2017, after the Swifts had held it for seven of the previous 10 years. Two wins in 2018 helped to redress the imbalance that McKinnis recalls from her playing days when national championships were still the pinnacle, domestically.
“It had been a while, so it was good to get it,’’ says McKinnis. “And I do like the recognition - apart from the names on the cup, it is about that NSW-Victoria rivalry, and Swifts and Vixens are traditional clubs that have been around for a while.
“So it’s a rivalry that goes back a long time, and I like that NSW-Victorian element of the contest.’’
The coach will be fonder, still, of this edition if her team can recover the full-court, four-quarter defensive intensity that went missing at times in what she describes as a “below-par performance” to draw with the West Coast Fever in Perth last Saturday.
“We were lucky we came home with three points, because we were looking down the barrel of just having one,’’ McKinnis says. “So I’m disappointed with the performance, overall, but there are some positives from it, including those last five minutes when they put themselves back in a position to draw. But Fever did play very well.’’
Despite the presence of another formidable shooter, Sam Wallace, Sunday's will be a different contest between two of Suncorp Super Netball’s more settled lists.
“I know it can be that third year where things start to click a bit with the group, so I’m not surprised, and I think that the Swifts are playing really good netball,’’ McKinnis said.
“Certainly they’re playing with lots of confidence and moving the ball with speed, and I think Wallace has been a really solid, strong target for them this early part of the season, she’s been really dangerous and potent for them. So defensively it’s going to be really tough for us.’’
As for the silverware, Sargeant quips that: “Every now and again I’ll remember and I’ll text the Swifts and say ‘do the right thing, bring that thing back with you’!’’
In the Vixens’ lair, McKinnis says: “They try and take the mickey out of me a bit with it, but they also do acknowledge what it’s about, and as juniors they’ve all come through playing for Victoria, as well.
“But they do like to make fun of the fact that my name’s attached to it. It’ll just be like ‘oh, the McKinnis Sargeant Cup this weekend, we’ve got to do it for you Simone’, that sort of silly stuff.’’
This weekend’s game against the Swifts is almost a sell-out! Tickets are still available through Ticketek.
Tickets to our next home game vs Collingwood Magpies on the Queen’s Birthday Monday are available through Ticketek.