Kate Eddy knew the risk. The Melbourne Vixens’ wing defence was aware that at some point during Sunday’s Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final her right foot might break.
The versatile defender was determined, though. If she could play, she would. Even for a minute. After missing the 2019 decider for the NSW Swifts with an ankle problem, the devastation of being sidelined, again, would be almost too much to bear.
But that was the prospect Eddy faced when long-time Vixens physiotherapist Steve Hawkins called her with some surprise - and horribly unwelcome - scan results the day after the minor premiers’ final round of the regular season.
A game in which Eddy’s pain was so acute she could not contest the second half.
“It was just the weirdest thing ever,’’ says Eddy, who was diagnosed with a stress reaction, but, unusually, had not felt any discomfort until a few days earlier.
“I could feel how hard it was for Steve to tell me, just purely because of what happened to me last year. He felt so heartbroken and I was just like ‘far out’. I couldn’t believe it.
“I was pretty emotional and I bawled my eyes out for hours. I called Mum as soon as I got off the phone from Steve and I was like ‘mum it’s happened again. I won’t play this year.’ I’m kind of getting sad talking about it now… ‘’
Readers will know that there was a happy ending in every respect, including a post-script that included a joint-runner-up gong with Jo Weston - behind Kate Moloney - in Monday night’s Sharelle McMahon Medal.
But, back then, there was still much of this story to unfold. Hawkins told Eddy she would definitely miss the first two weeks of the finals and should not to get her hopes up for a 2020 comeback, given that such a condition would normally require 6 to 8 weeks in a moon boot.
What made things more upsetting was Eddy’s confidence in what she believed this close-knit Vixens team was about to achieve. Pre-injury, the 23-year-old had felt calm; believing that, after a dominant season, a championship surely beckoned.
“So I was just kind of like ‘far out, this group’s so special, they’re gonna win and I’m gonna be in the stands again’. But credit to Emma (Iacovou), our physio, she was amazing. I saw her every morning and every night.
“Simone as well, had faith and confidence in me. We had some pretty honest conversations about what she needed from me to be able to play, and just to have her support and belief kind of made it a lot easier.
“I knew she wanted me to be there, regardless of whether I could play five minutes or 60 minutes, so that was pretty crucial for my spirit and my energy. For everyone to put in 200 per cent so I could be there, I just appreciate everyone so much.’’
The crucial test was on the Thursday before the big game. Eddy would need to get through a quarter of match play unscathed.
“I know it was a really emotional and stressful time for Kate, but she got on court and played really well and pulled up really well, so from there we knew that she was going to be okay, and that was huge for her,’’ McKinnis recalls.
“We had a chat and I said ‘I’ll back you, whatever you can give us on the day, as long as you’re comfortable with it and it’s what you want, as well… To be honest, early days the feeling was that she wasn’t going to be available, so it couldn’t have panned out better, really. Just great for her.’’
Goal keeper Emily Mannix took a photo at Nissan Arena on Sunday morning that reveals a little more: Eddy was not just in her Vixens’ dress but, still, the ubiquitous moon boot.
It was only before the team meeting, when her name was read out at WD in the starting seven, that Eddy swapped the medical aide for a netball shoe.
“I knew the risk of me playing and I could have potentially broken it or something, but I wanted to play and that was the risk I was willing to take.’’
Consequences? Puh! They were tomorrow’s concern.
From the first whistle, adrenalin masked much of the pain, but when tomorrow did come, and Eddy viewed the replay, she could see in her movement how difficult it was.
“I was walking half the time and I was ‘oh, my God!’. I definitely was in a lot of pain and I remember going to Allie (Smith) at three-quarter-time and saying ‘just be ready. I don’t know how much longer I can go’.’’
Smith was duly summoned for the last five or so minutes, and if Eddy was not officially on court for the moment when a famous 66-64 triumph was confirmed, she suspects that, well, she might have been.
Foot pain? What pain?
“I just felt super-proud of everyone. What a crazy year it has been,’’ she recalls. “I just remember looking at everyone and we all just could not believe it. Every hour even now I’m still like ‘guys, we won a Grand Final. What the hell?’
“I’m just so grateful that we even got to play netball this year, after everything that went on. I was just so stoked.’’
Back in the moon boot, as she will be for several more weeks of an extended Queensland holiday, Eddy was both thrilled and shocked to be on stage sharing second place with Weston in the club MVP award, for the two have swapped positions at times, and worked in tandem throughout the season.
Eddy has grown up as a goal defence, but is learning to love the wing as well, taught by McKinnis, perhaps the best to ever wear the WD bib.
“She was just solid, consistent, no fuss or bother, just does the job,’’ says McKinnis of her latest protege, who missed only a handful of minutes in the first 13 rounds.
“But I also love that she takes some great intercepts, attacks the ball, as well. Just a nice fit within the group. I think she was one of the best wing defenders in the league this year.’’ (Author’s note: and unlucky to miss Australian squad selection.)
As for Eddy’s connection and occasional switcheroo with Weston, different styles clicked, and the native Victorian could not be more grateful to be here.
“I wanted to play for the Vixens ever since I was a little girl, so I can’t believe it and I couldn’t have cared where I finished in the Shaz Mac Medal,’’ she says. “But with a premiership medal and the cup, this year’s been crazy, and it’s been a highlight of my life!’’
Also a career progression, with Eddy describing as “a massive learning experience” the step up from being a job-sharer with Sophie Craig at the Swifts to playing a full game each week as the replacement for Renae Ingles.
Having returned to Melbourne to be home again with family and friends, she will end up spending more than four months in Queensland, but, then, no-one’s 2020 has gone exactly according to plan.
Still, Eddy’s chat with super-veteran Caity Thwaites on the Vixens’ awards night emphasised that although she may have taken the long route to the Vixens (via Sydney), a strike rate of two SSN titles in her first three years is rare indeed.
“Caity said that in the 18 years that she’s played, she’s won two. So I kind of pinch myself how lucky I am that this year was such a great experience. Other than the foot, it pretty much was almost the perfect season.
“Pretty crazy. I know. I’m very very lucky.’’
Written by Linda Pearce