Julie Fitzgerald AM, is the head coach of Giants Netball. But to lead with just that doesn’t do her justice. She has been an intrinsic part of the story of netball in Australia, and when all is said and done, will have left an indelible mark on the sport.
Fitzgerald was an inaugural coach when netball started the Commonwealth Bank Trophy. 24 years ago, she took charge of the Sydney Swifts, where she remained until 2011.
Fitzgerald has coached many of the names that are now ubiquitous with Australian netball. Liz Ellis, Briony Akle and Catherine Cox.
When Fitzgerald did depart the Swifts in 2011, Cox spoke proudly of her coach.
“She has the respect of all the playing group. We had a successful season and have a great culture at the club,” Cox said.
Fitzgerald left the Swifts and went to the Australian Institute of Sport. She describes it as a pivotal moment in her career.
“Going to the AIS was a big turning point in my career. I learned so much while I was down there, and it gave me a real opportunity to learn more,” Fitzgerald said.
After Fitzgerald’s departure for the Swifts, she spent some time working with the Waikato Bay-of-Plenty Magic, before returning to Sydney.
On her return, Fitzgerald became the inaugural coach of the Giants Netball, a fitting coincidence, making her the inaugural coach of both NSW Super Netball clubs, something Fitzgerald said she never expected.
“When I left the Swifts, I never thought there would be an opportunity for me to coach in Sydney again. I feel really lucky that I got to do that and coach the Giants.”
Fitzgerald has taken the Giants to great heights, leading them to finals in 2017 and 2018. The 2018 finals campaign marked Fitzgerald’s 20th time coaching on the sidelines of a finals series.
She coached the Swifts to the finals in all 10 years of the Australian Netball League, and in 2008, 2010 and 2011. She took the Magic to the finals every year between 2013 and 2016 of the Trans-Tasman Championship, and then two years of Giants Netball.
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Fitzgerald’s impact has not been restricted to the professional game. She has long been involved with Hornsby Heights Netball Club, the club she started playing with as a junior aged eight.
In 2018, Julie Fitzgerald was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). She was awarded the honour for her contribution to netball, and as a mentor to sportswomen.
One of her proudest achievements is working with the people she’s worked with along the way.
“I’m so lucky that there have been so many highlights and so many great people along the way” Fitzgerald said.
Talking about some of the people she worked with, Fitzgerald spoke with pride about some of her former players who are now becoming elite coaches.
“There’s Briony [Akle] and Megan [Anderson] coming through as coaches. The most pleasure I get out of seeing that is that they stayed in the game.
“They’ve obviously loved the sport enough that they still want to be involved and still want to be involved at a high level.”
And the feeing is certainly mutual for many of them, with that appreciation shown by so many of her former players, and current contemporaries.
Briony Akle, Fitzgerald’s current cross-town rival, and eventual successor at the Swifts, spoke highly of her in 2018.
“She brings out the best in players… She cares about those athletes, not just as a netballer on the court, but when you walk away, she still cares,” Akle said.
Last weekend, Akle and Fitzgerald were on opposite sides of the court, showing that Fitzgerald’s coaching and leadership has spread further beyond just her team these days.
For Fitzgerald though, she remains focussed on taking the Giants to the finals of the Suncorp Super Netball in 2021.
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