Adelaide Thunderbirds recruit Elle McDonald is embracing her opportunities in pink, finding her feet in the mid court and making an impact when injected into the game.
After a winless start to 2021, the Thunderbirds finally tasted victory in Round 6 with a six-goal win against the Vixens.
McDonald came onto the court half-way through the third term when scores were level and played her best patch of netball in the pink dress.
Taking the captain’s centre bib, McDonald made 14 feeds into the circle, including five goal assists.
Her fresh legs brought extra speed to the Thunderbirds’ transition and they went on a roll to seal the win.
McDonald spoke to The Inner Sanctum about her road to Super Netball, premierships and life in “quiet” South Australia.
Like most young players, McDonald’s love for netball began on with friends on a primary school netball court.
“I moved over to Australia from England when I was eight years old and some friends I made in primary school invited me to play in their team,” she said.
“I guess I just developed a love for the game from there.”
McDonald played local netball growing up and started to make some representative teams in her teens.
“From there I trialed for VNL teams and just worked my way through the ranks of 19s and under, Division One and then Championship Division.”
ANL to Suncorp Super Netball
After trialing for a few years, McDonald was asked to join Australian Netball League (ANL) side Victorian Fury in 2019.
The team went on to win the premiership in 2019, in what would be the final season of the competition.
“We had a really successful year (in 2019), taking out the premiership, and after that experience I was offered a training partnership with the Melbourne Vixens last year,” McDonald said.
McDonald found even more success at the domestic level, featuring for the Vixens throughout their premiership season.
“I obviously experienced going into the hub with them and also winning a premiership there too.
“So, a pretty special pathway and quite different to a lot of other players who are currently playing in the Suncorp Super Netball league.
“I am quite proud of how I’ve got here and taking a bit of a unique journey.”
As a Melbourne Vixens training partner in 2020, McDonald went into the Queensland hub for the Super Netball season.
Game-day squads were also extended to 12 players last season, opening up more opportunities for McDonald to hit the court.
“It was amazing to be a part of. Myself and the other training partners, we were just really lucky to be involved in the whole experience with the team,” McDonald said.
“We probably knew that if a regular season was to have occurred, we might not have got the opportunities that we did.
“To be living day in and day out with the likes of those athletes was incredible to learn from and it’s definitely helped us grow, not only as players but people as well.”
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McDonald’s performances in the later part of the 2020 season caught the eye of Thunderbirds head coach Tanya Obst.
“Being new to Suncorp Super Netball last year, I wasn’t sure how the signing period would go,” McDonald said.
“Tanya Obst reached out to me towards the end of the season and we had a few really good chats.
“I was really hoping to be able to get myself a contract for the 2021 season. I was honestly so happy to receive the offer and couldn’t wait to snap it up.”
Life at Adelaide
Relocating to a new city at 26-years-old, McDonald is embracing the new friendships and quieter lifestyle.
“The move has been really good. SA is a lot quieter than Melbourne, but it’s a very easy city to live in. Having the friendship and support from the team has made the move even easier,” she said.
“We are all really getting on off court, so it definitely makes the transition interstate a lot smoother when you have those relationships.”
McDonald said it was “super special” to make her debut in pink in Round 1. She spent 20 minutes on court, taking six centre passes and providing seven goal assists.
“It was just really lovely to be recognised and be able to take the court in round one,” she said.
McDonald has played patches of strong netball when sent onto the court by Obst.
While it may be unlikely she’ll win a third premiership in three years with the Thunderbirds sitting 1-5 approaching the halfway point of the season, she’s feeling positive about what the team can do.
“There is a really special feeling amongst this group and we do have some young and emerging talent coming through,” McDonald said.
“Each round we are improving, so I think the work we are doing at training and just trying to come together as a group is showing.
“We’re just looking to build on that.”
Mid court challenges
The Thunderbirds mid court is still working out what life without Chelsea Pitman looks like. Obst is making the most of rolling substitutions, changing the midcourt combination multiple times throughout each match.
“We’re still working on our connections with each other,” McDonald said.
“We’ve probably seen glimpses of what we can do within our mid court group, but we’re aiming to work towards putting out consistent performances.
“I would like to consolidate my position on court and just find where I fit in the mid court with Hannah and Maisie.”
Adelaide started its season with five losses prior to last Sunday’s win. Two early blow-outs hurt, but some closer games in recent weeks has shown what the team is capable of.
The players could feel they were approaching a win and finally tasted that success in Round 6.
“We understand that at Suncorp level all the teams are a real challenge, but we’re working on those really tight quarters and holding onto that lead when we get one,” she said.
The Thunderbirds will now look to build on this success, chasing another victory against the NSW Swifts in Round 7.
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