NSW Swifts inspired by championship legacy

Credit: Nigel Owen

A gasp is all Paige Hadley could muster as she pulled on the NSW Swifts' yellow dress for the first time.

"Oh my god," she said, realising a childhood dream had come true.

For 11 years, the likes of Liz Ellis and Catherine Cox inspired a generation of netballers wearing the iconic blue and yellow uniform.

The then-Sydney Swifts won four premierships in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy and became household names, propelling not just netball but women's sport into the spotlight.

So it's more than just a yellow dress. It's a legacy.

And that legacy will be honoured this Super Netball season as the Swifts celebrate their 25th anniversary, with the team to don a heritage uniform in the round-12 clash with the Giants at Ken Rosewall Arena.

"I've only worn red so when I put it on it was super special," Hadley said.

"I would never get to wear that dress in terms of being too young to play for the yellow Swifts.

"To wear it and represent the legends that paved the way for us in this club is super special.

"That's the team I grew up watching."

The Swifts were rebranded in 2008 to include all of NSW as part of the ANZ Championship, changing their colours to the state's red and blue.

They won the inaugural season of the trans-Tasman competition, before claiming the 2019 Super Netball title to become the only team to win a premiership in each variation of the national league.

"While 25 years is not super long, it's a huge success... and for me now to be part of that legacy is special," Hadley said.

"And gratitude to the ones who have led the way for our club. Members are growing and the game is growing. It's what you want to see."

Former Swifts and Diamonds defender Bec Bulley has returned to NSW as assistant coach for this season, saying coming back to the club that helped launch her career in its 25th year was special.

"The Swifts has always had a place in my heart," Bulley said.

"I played in the premiership side in 2008, so I had every intention of playing out my career as a Swift but circumstances change and things happen.

"I left. But I feel like I've come home again and it's great to be part of this club in its 25th year. I feel like they're really acknowledging the history and legacy that's come before and it's nice to be part of it."

Leading her side for a fourth season, Briony Akle is one of only a few people who has won a title as both a player and coach for the same club. Beaming with pride to be a part of their 25th season, Akle told ESPN this year would be about celebrating the immense legacy the Swifts had created and the players who'd come before them.

"I think it's just about celebrating the legacy of the Swifts; those players that have come before us and the success they've had," Akle said. "I'm really just telling the girls to embrace that, have fun and enjoy the year.

"I always say to the players, it's a privilege. We've only got this dress for a short time and it's the same as coaching. It's about enjoying the moment and being super grateful for the opportunity."

The most successful side in Australian netball with six premiership titles, Akle said there would be no pressure to live up to the Swifts name in 2021, instead she will bring former players back to inspire and teach her players, including Cox who presented the squad with their playing dresses for the season.

"We make it a thing that we're the students of the game at the Swifts and part of that is watching who came before us and who wore your bib before you did, getting those players who used to be at the club back involved.

"We saw that with Cath [Cox] being here at the launch, there's constant reminders of the legacy. We watch some old games and the talent hasn't changed, they were super talented and the team still learns from them."

Asked what her favourite memories were from the club, it wasn't the two titles she'd won, but the friendships she'd gained.

"I think more than anything it's the people and the connections you have for a life time. You only play for a short time, but I've definitely got best friends out of that and mentors like Julie [Fitzgerald]. The friendships off-court will stay with me forever."