Giants Netball’s young defender Matilda McDonell has taken on the starting goalkeeping position after club legend Sam Poolman retired, she believes despite the ‘big shoes’ she has to fill, she has done the work and is ready to prove it.
Retiring after nine years of elite netball at Giants Netball and the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Sam Poolman hung up the orange dress at the end of the 2021 season. In 100 games of national league netball, she had become a stalwart in the Giants side in the goalkeeping position in the starting seven.
Beginning her fourth year at the club in 2022, McDonell is wanting to prove that she is ready for the challenge of playing on some of the best shooters in the world at just 21 years old.
She spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about the expectations she has for herself and her team in 2022.
“It’s big shoes to fill, Sammy’s shoes are big shoes to fill and to be honest I felt like I was ready for it,” McDonell said.
“This is my fourth year with the Giants and I’ve spent the last three years listening, learning and absorbing everything that people tell me and the coaches. I’ve been working my backside off in the gym and doing my review and just everything I can.
“I just felt really ready this year and I’ve tried to take the opportunity with both hands and hopefully I can just keep improving every week.”
Her best performance was in Round 4 in a loss to the Queensland Firebirds at Ken Rosewall Arena. McDonell had the most Nissan net points (80.5) and deflections (five) and out of all the Giants’ players, she also had the equal most pickups (two).
McDonell credited her teammates for looking after her and teaching her about the league when she first came into the Giants Netball set-up, which has seen her rise massively as a netballer.
“When I first came everyone took a turn, I think everyone helped me out because when I came to the club I was only 18 and I had no idea about anything and anything about the way of Suncorp,” she said.
“Kim Green really took me under her wing and as I progressed April Brandley has been really instrumental in my development and making me feel confident.”
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Mixed form in 2022 so far
Giants Netball has had a mixed start to the season notching up two wins and three losses so far. McDonell said that the group being hit hard with COVID health and safety protocols hasn’t helped but they are happy with their performances since the side has had their all players back.
“I think we had a hard hit with COVID and I think now we’re back on our horse and we are rolling again, we’ve got our full squad and we’ve been training really hard,” she said.
“We were happy with our performance on the weekend obviously we still have things we need to work on going forward.
“I think it’s the minor tweaks at the moment, the big picture is down pat pretty well, we’re just tweaking minor things which is a great place to be in.”
The Round 5 performance against the lowly Collingwood Magpies was a strong one for the team. It’s hard to gauge where both sides are at this early into the season due to both clubs having half the squad out at various stages.
The Giants outclassed the Magpies to run out 15 point winners, thanks to a hot start. The player of the match was star English International, Jo Harten. The captain shot at 100 per cent shooting accuracy with 48/48 and two super shots along with four feeds and four assists.
McDonell described Harten as a class athlete and human, the ultimate compliment to the heart and soul of this Giants squad.
“It’s an absolute privilege I think she’s just a class athlete, class human and she’s a true leader and I think we all look to her off the court for guidance and advice,” McDonell said.
“I think just the way she performs, she puts her heart and soul into everything and she’s greatly admired by all staff and players.
“I feel like Joey’s always on, I just look at her and I think ‘do you play bad ever’ but she had an outstanding game on the weekend.
“I think Joey just goes into this beast mode and just knows what to do and I suppose when you’ve been playing netball for that long you just sort of know what to do. She’s got a wealth of knowledge and we all pick her apart even me, she gives me tips, she’s just amazing.”
COVID chaos in Round 2
Round 2 was a challenge for an undermanned Giants Netball side. They travelled to Adelaide to play a full-strength Adelaide Thunderbirds, while they were missing three players from their starting seven as well as three training partners due to COVID health and safety protocols.
The Giants requested to have the game postponed twice, however, the league insisted that the game was to go ahead. Former Thunderbird and currently a training partner with the West Coast Fever, Chelsea Pitman was even parachuted into Adelaide with the team to play for Giants Netball.
The scores during the game until half-time were as close as they come with scores tied. The Thunderbirds ran over the depleted side to run out winners by 13 points.
McDonell spoke about what the experience was like and how the experience of her captain and coach Julie Fitzgerald nearly stole an unlikely win.
“It was definitely challenging for us going into it, we thought we’d give it a crack and we are quite a resilient team, we have faced adversity last year and came out with really good results,” McDonell said.
“We’d been in that sort of position before and we just got on with the job. Jo (Harten) and Julie (Fitzgerald) are great leaders and just got on with the job at hand so we just followed them and did the best we could.
“We ran out of puff in the end, in that second half but were pretty happy with what we put out.”
McDonell said she has the utmost respect for the 350 game coach and she couldn’t speak any more highly of Fitzgerald.
“I couldn’t give her enough credit, she’s just so wise and clever and really knows the game and really supports her athletes as well. She’s genuinely the best coach I’ve ever had and I couldn’t have any more respect for her, she really cares about you as a person and a player,” she said.
Giants Netball’s defensive unit
Giants Netball’s defensive unit will be vastly different this year with McDonell or new recruit Lauren Moore to fill the goalkeeper position alongside veteran April Brandley. McDonell loves playing with Brandley in particular who has been a great leader alongside Harten.
“She’s great, she’s just got this great attitude of getting the ball and she’s been awesome to work with and she keeps me calm and level-headed,” McDonell said.
“I think we bounce off each other beautifully and it’s just unreal, she’s just like a GOAT like Jo. She just gets the job done and is a really great leader in our team and we all really look for her leadership in that defensive end.”
Moore has come from the NSW Swifts where she played alongside Australian Diamonds’ Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner.
“Lozzy (Moore) is great, she’s a little firecracker, every time she steps out she brings all the energy and she’s always got great ideas on defence, structures, plays and everything,” McDonell said.
“She’s fitted into our team really seamlessly which is great and she’s great off the court as well which makes it beautiful.”
McDonell and Moore will usually play with Amy Parmenter in the wing defence position, a position she has commanded through consistent form.
“Every time I step out there with her and Parmy (Amy Parmenter) in front of me, it just feels like such a privilege,” McDonell said.
“I feel so lucky that I play with those girls as well with Loz (Lauren Moore), our defensive unit is really good, it’s really mobile and able to be mobile and agile so we can all rotate and work really well together. It’s great we bounce off each other and it creates beautiful netball.”
Round 6 match-up against the Fever
The upcoming match against the West Coast Fever is set to be a spectacular match-up. McDonell will more than likely be defending arguably one of the best current goal shooters in the league, Jhaniele Fowler.
The question for Giants Netball and their coaching staff is how do you stop a player like Fowler and stop the assisting of Sasha Glasgow who is thriving this season.
“We are approaching it like a team-based thing, obviously they’ve got Fowler and she’s an asset for them but if we can shut the ball down early before it reaches her then that’s probably a better scenario,” McDonell said.
“Individually, I want to try and take control of the circle and work with April (Brandley) and we’ll work in unison to just try and win the ball.
“It will be fun, it will be a hard match-up on the weekend but I’m really looking forward to it.”
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