Reaching for the top: Local girl Meegan Rooney has high hopes for the Queensland Firebirds in this year?s national netball leag
Reaching for the top: Local girl Meegan Rooney has high hopes for the Queensland Firebirds in this year?s national netball leag

Memories of Murray Drive

Two beers with Greeny

Queensland Firebirds netballer Meegan Rooney

BRAD GREENSHIELDS: Well Meegan, we're sitting here at the netball courts off Murray Drive, how many memories does just being at this complex bring back for you?

MEEGAN ROONEY: A lot of memories of hope and lots of fun, I guess. When I first moved to Coffs Harbour I was absolutely terrified when I walked up here for rep trials, I think it was the under-14s team that I was trying out for and coming from an even smaller town than Coffs Harbour, I was absolutely terrified trying for the team but I got in.

It was really exciting though because it was my first sort of step towards my dream I guess, it was my first realisation that I could go somewhere with netball.

BG: Do those memories seem even further away considering how far you've come in netball now?

MR: When I get here, no. When I walk down here it's just like I've come back again.

When I'm in Brisbane it's hard to believe as it was only sort of five years ago that I was running around here and wondering if I could be playing indoors in a big stadium and that sort of thing. I just never dreamed of it when I was here, but it doesn't seem too far away.

BG: Speaking of playing in a big stadium, in 2006 the Queensland Firebirds played in their first ever semi-final. It was in Melbourne and it was a big stadium with a big crowd. How big a thrill was that?

MR: Actually it was kind of strange because Queensland is known for the best crowds in the league and every other team hates coming up to Queensland to play against us because we are so vocal and so passionate.

When we went to Melbourne it was amazing. There was a stadium and there probably was about 4000 people I'd say in there and we had a crowd of about 100 supporting us and they were sitting behind our bench and I reckon that they were louder than the whole Melbourne crowd, it was just so fantastic to be in another state and have that support.

It's amazing, my debut game as a Firebird was in front of 10,000 people in the Sydney Superdome where they play the basketball. So I played my debut there and it was just incredible running out onto that court. I was like 'Oh my god'.

BG: How big a dream come true was that?

MR: Oh it was unreal. To debut in that game, especially in front of so many people and playing against Catherine Cox, who is in the Australian team.

I remember when I was stepping onto the court, I think for the first 5 or 10 minutes I was just in a daze because I was like 'What am I doing here? This is so weird. Is this actually happening?' sort of thing.

BG: When you're playing against girls like Catherine Cox or Sharelle McMahon, do you get overawed?

MR: Absolutely, they're very intimidating as players. We do a lot of preparation the week before to combat those sort of players, so you do feel prepared.

I played against Sharelle a couple of times this year and it's very easy to let who they are get the better of you rather than remembering the fact that they're human and that they can make mistakes, too.

BG: In 2006, the Firebirds, after spending so many years down at the bottom, went absolutely gangbusters after the legendary Vicki Wilson took over as coach. How much of a difference can one person make?

MR: Well I guess it's shown, hasn't it, but I don't think it's all her. As much as Vick has been the driving force of it all, it's been a real team effort and I've never ever been in a team where it's been so supportive and so much fun just to be there.

I didn't get a whole lot of court time this year but just being a part of it, it's just been the best year of netball that I've ever had at any level and to have everyone contributing and everyone feeling valued, it's an incredible atmosphere to create. It's so hard to do that in a team and we're not just a team of 12 people, we're a group of about 20 players and then there's about 10 support staff as well which is a lot of people to keep happy.

BG: How much of a difference has Vicki Wilson made to your game?

MR: A huge difference. I sort of fell into a rut I think because the year before we didn't have a very good year and the year before that I didn't play for the Firebirds, and I guess I lost the edge in my game. Vick really brought that back out of me again and got the mongrel into me again, you could say.

She's been amazing and just taught me so much. Even if I'm not on the court, I've learnt so much this year and my game's improved so it's been really rewarding.

BG: Now you said that the team has been really close knit this year. This column is called '2 Beers with Greeny' and I put it to you that the netballers don't get the publicity for it but they can party just as hard as the footballers.

MR: Absolutely, of course we can except we don't do all the stupid stuff that they do. We have some great nights out and actually we're probably the opposite that Vick is always getting up us when we win games and that because sometimes we're too tired to go out and she's like 'go on, get out, go and have fun' and we're like 'oh we're too tired'.

I actually missed a cocktail party we had this weekend in Brisbane, it was a big private cocktail party at one of the girls' houses and I had phone calls all night on Friday night saying 'Meegan, where are you? C'mon'. I was just too tired and looked at the phone and hung up.

BG: How good can the team go this year? You've gone from last to fourth.

MR: Well we're aiming for another four places I guess, moving up the ladder. All the e-mails that we're getting from Vick all the time say 'Premiers 2007'.

It's not expected by everyone else but that's our goal and we're really working towards that in everything that we're doing at the moment. Our pre-season is much harder this year, it's much more specific in everything. Everything is improving so we can get to that big goal because I think last year it was like 'I think we can, I think we can' and then we did it and now it's like 'Well we know we can and we're going to do it'.

BG: How much are you going to improve this year?

MR: I hope double what I already have I guess. I've got this starting point now where I've come from down here to up to here, and now I've got to go to right up here I guess and just keep improving.

We're starting early and we've got our first fitness testing on Tuesday actually. We've got the beep test and the skinfolds. So that's basically our starting point. We've had a small program to do up until now and then it kicks in on Tuesday.

BG: Let's go beyond Tuesday's tests. Do representative honours ever come into your thinking?

MR: Yeah, when you're a little kid that's what you dream of, to play for Australia. Playing in the National League, it's obviously a step to that and that was always my dream to play in the National League and play for Australia eventually, so it's always in the back of your mind but you've got to focus on the small steps to get there first.

For me, I'm just concentrating on improving my game and getting on the court. I'd definitely love to play for Australia one day but if it happens then it happens, if it doesn't I'm just enjoying what I've got at the moment.

BG: When netball is finally over, would you come back to Coffs or have you fallen in love with Brisbane?

MR: I wouldn't want to bring my family up in Brisbane just because it's a big city and I grew up in Singleton and Coffs Harbour. I just love the smaller town atmosphere, Coffs isn't so much of a small town I guess but it's more of a community atmosphere here and it's such a beautiful place with the beach and that.

I'm trying to convince my boyfriend to move back here if we're still together at the time but I'd really like to move back because all my family is here, too.

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