Paige Hadley. Photo: Ryan Osland
When the NSW Swifts didn’t renew the contract of five-time premiership coach Julie Fitzgerald over summer, I thought they were mad.
When they let captain Catherine Cox leave for West Coast, I thought they were mad.
When new coach Lisa Beehag made so many rotations in the early-season games, I thought she was mad.
I was wrong.
While Fitzgerald’s methods were unquestionably successful, Beehag’s very different approach is possibly better for the game. She has used all 12 rostered players plus a reserve, and has used her bench much more heavily than Fitzgerald did.
A few times it has seemed as though Beehag has put her side at risk of losing: against Central Pulse, who the Swifts should have streeted, they won by a mere three goals after every player got court time. At the time I thought it was insane, especially with co-captain Kimberlee Green out injured. At one point she had Green, as well as her best defender, Mo’onia Gerrard, and best shooter, Susan Pratley, all sitting on the bench. It meant youngster Paige Hadley got court time. It meant reserve shooter Kimberly Borger got court time. It meant a nine-goal lead was whittled down to a three-goal win.
Hadley looked just a little like a rabbit in the headlights that day.
Fast forward to the weekend’s gutsy win over the Melbourne Vixens, the Swifts’ sixth straight victory. Green, who continues to dominate the midcourt and attacking third with her quick feet and quick hands, goes down injured early in the third quarter with nothing in the score to suggest either side has the upper hand.
Hadley’s number is up.
This time she strides confidently to the centre circle. She switches with Vanessa Ware and performs just as ably at wing attack.
Now if Hadley hadn’t had her nervous wobbles in the ‘‘easy’’ game against the Pulse, she might have had them in a big match when she was forced to go on court - like the Vixens game.
Ware stepped into Green’s more aggressive role, and up bobbed Hadley in support. Pratley kept sinking goals - it is as though she has grown a foot taller since Cox left – and the Swifts got a six-goal win over higher-ranked opposition.
And all of a sudden, Beehag’s madness made perfect sense.