SOUTH Warrnambool’s Ally O’Connor has completed a triumphant return to competitive netball, with the mid-courter winning this season’s Hampden league open and netball best and fairest.
The 21 year-old polled 22 votes to finish four ahead of Warrnambool’s Amy Wormald, with the pair well clear of Cobden’s Sophie Blain and Portland’s Remy Grant, both on 12 votes and North Warrnambool’s Skye Billings and Bomber Remeny McCann who both polled 11.
O’Connor, who missed the 2019 season due to a battle with reactive arthritis, has juggled Victorian Netball League commitments with Geelong Cougars alongside duties at South this year, often playing two games a weekend in what has been a remarkable comeback season.
She has also earned selection in the Victoria Fury squad for the Australian Netball Championships, which has been a testament to her return, with her on-court prowess recognised by the umpires.
“It’s definitely probably one of the better feelings I’ve had,” the South netballer said of her first ever senior league best and fairest.
“I think ever since my injury everything I’ve ever worked for has probably…felt a lot sweeter.
“Making Fury this year I felt I had to work really hard for that to come back and obviously this award I just feel as though it’s a lot sweeter knowing I was able to come back basically from a two year stint off netball.
“To come back and do this, I’m pretty proud.”
O’Connor, who is no stranger to winning a league award having won the 17 and under best and fairest back in 2014, polled in nine games to become the first Rooster since Michelle Green won awards in 1988 and 1990.
The mid-courter credited a strong fitness base for enabling her to star at Hampden level as well as at the VNL, with O’Connor often clocking up the kilometres to hit the court each week.
An understanding coach, who is willing to give her star pupil the chance to bring as much knowledge as she can back to South, has also helped O’Connor thrive.
“Coming into open grade at an young age I kind of just relied on my natural fitness but as I’ve gotten older I’ve really had to work hard and maintain and exceed in all that sort of (fitness) stuff,” she said.
“Being in the fitness industry has helped a lot as well. I think this year would be one of the best in terms of my fitness levels.
“I’ve had to find a balance (juggling South and VNL duties) and it has been challenging. It is a lot of travel with Cougars games predominantly being in Melbourne and with South obviously in Warrnambool and then living in Geelong.
“It is a lot of travel but its 100 per cent worth it. The girls in my team at Cougars are amazing, the girls in my team at South are amazing so I think just the camaraderie we have creates this sense that I’m more than happy to do that travelling.
“Leesa (Battistello) always comes to me and says is there anything from Cougars you’d like to put into South and I think I have taken some of the things like training drills and brought them into South and vice versa.
“I do like to bring that experience if you like to call it back into the country football netball scene and I think it’s worked really well.”
O’Connor celebrated her triumph with some of her Rooster team-mates on Saturday, acknowledging them and Battistello and assistant coach Wil Jamieson for their impact on her game this season.
“It was one of my favourite seasons to be a part of,” she said.
“The girls I had in this team were unreal, I formed so many good friendships with them and I was being coached by Leesa which was unreal and then Will who is so experienced and has got so much experience with elite netball.
“To be in a side with all those girls and those coaches was pretty amazing.”
A win in the netball’s top award for O’Connor was complemented by a joint victory in the Miss Kit MVP award alongside Hamilton Kangaroos shooter Hollie Phillips as well as Sungold Milk Open Netball Team of the Year selection.
HFNL OPEN NETBALL TEAM OF THE YEAR
GK: Nadine McNamara (Cobden)
GD: Carly Watson (South Warrnambool)
WD: Georgia Corbett (North Warrnambool)
C: Ally O’Connor (South Warrnambool)
WA: Sophie Hinkley (Cobden)
GA: Amy Wormald (Warrnambool)
GS: Nell Mitchell (Koroit)
I/C: Annie Blackburn (South Warrnambool), Skye Billings (North Warrnambool), Hollie Phillips (Hamilton Kangaroos), Amy Hammond (Cobden), Millie Jennings (Koroit)
COACH: Sophie Hinkley (Cobden)
TEAM MANAGER: Janelle Smith (Cobden)
UMPIRE: Leah Kermeen (South Warrnambool