Sport

Diamonds sparkle on horizon for ‘roundabout girl’ Maddie Hay

She has been dubbed “the roundabout girl” for her propensity to return regardless of challenges thrown at her, and after consecutive Super Netball match MVP awards Giants midcourter Maddie Hay could be on track for a Diamonds call-up.

The Sydney native debuted for the NSW Swifts in the ANZ Championship in 2014 under Rob Wright – the man who gave Hay her nickname – but, unlike many of her age-group contemporaries, court time did not translate into a career for the then 18-year-old.

The following year, she lost her Swifts contract and went back to playing in the next-tier competition. In 2017, she joined new Super Netball franchise, the Giants, as a low-paid training partner, staying on for three seasons.

But, with the retirement of ex-Swifts teammate, friend and mentor Kim Green in 2019, and a switch to wing attack from previous specialty positions wing defence and centre, quietly spoken Hay finally got a full contract.

I think she should definitely be in the conversation, in the mix
In 2020 she was solid across a Super Netball season played inside a Queensland hub, playing in all but one game, but this season – also flipped on its head by Covid-19 – the now 26-year-old has truly broken through.

She sits towards the top of the table for several of her position’s key metrics including feeds with a shot, goal assists and centre pass receives. Andm in her side’s back-to-back wins against Collingwood and the Swifts over the past fortnight has turned in MVP performances. The win helped the Giants cement top place with just three games left to be played before finals.

In the Giants’ 59-55 win over the more-fancied Swifts in Adelaide on Saturday, Hay had a game-high 19 goal assists, 32 feeds, 21 with a shot, two gains and took an intercept in the second quarter. Unusually for a wing attack, but unsurprisingly given her defensive background, she also had three deflections, one resulting in a gain. So good was Hay that Swifts coach Briony Akle tried three different opponents on her to curb her influence, without success.

Her form has many in the netball world – including her predecessor, Diamonds legend and broadcaster Green – talking up her chances of wearing the green and gold, whether that’s in October’s recently announced four-Test Constellation Cup series or later.

“She isn’t your conventional wing attack that’s for sure, but she’s highly efficient and does a huge workload in both feeds and centre pass receives. She also brings so much fire to defence,” said Green, who played 74 Tests. “I think she should definitely be in the conversation, in the mix, at the very least for the wider squad. Especially when you think she can play wing attack, centre and wing defence.

“She’s the type of player who has been told ‘you’re not quite there’ so many times, and I really admire the resilience she’s been able to show to get to where she is. Her form this season has been something else. Because she has that background as a wing defence, she looks at it from a perspective of ‘what kind of players did I hate playing against?’, rather than your usual wing attack mindset, which makes her hard to play on.

“Despite looking slow on court, she’s actually incredibly fast, too. She would be second only to Amy Parmenter at the Giants right now for foot speed. She also does an incredible amount of work off the ball that no one sees and defensively, she’s just gold.”

With arguably the best wing attack in the world Liz Watson currently out injured, there is something of a Diamonds midcourt opening, though Stacey Marinkovich is not short of other options.

The new national coach has a wide field to choose from, including Jess Anstiss, Verity Charles, Paige Hadley, Kate Moloney, Jamie-Lee Price and Maddy Proud, who can all play WA and went on tour to New Zealand earlier this year. Then there is capped Diamonds Kelsey Browne and Kim Ravaillion, who can all play wing attack or centre.

Hay described the mere suggestion she is in the mix as “weird”.

“Because from the moment I got this contract that I wanted so much my priority was getting on court, and now it’s being the best wing attack I can be,” she said. “I’m learning every day, every game. I guess growing up, something like [the Diamonds] felt like a very far distant goal, but I am just so happy playing Super Netball right now.”

At 26, Hay realises she has taken the long road to the top.

“There have been so many disappointments, so many let-downs along the way, and there were definitely moments where I thought ‘I’m never going to make it’,” she said. “But I never gave up. I kinda like that part of my story – that I didn’t – and hopefully I can be a success. Rob [Wright] always used to call me the roundabout girl, because just when he thought I was going away, I’d come back. I’m not going away, you can’t get rid me. And no, you can’t say no to a yellow dress.”