A decade of dominance for Neerim’s netball stars

A Grade netball coach Harry Wood stands with Jenny Muir (left) and Vicky Ballantyne (best and fairest winner) during one of the six consecutive flags for the township.

A Grade netball coach Harry Wood stands with Jenny Muir (left) and Vicky Ballantyne (best and fairest winner) during one of the six consecutive flags for the township.

In the sporting world, the word ‘dynasty’ is thrown around more often than not when a team wins two, or even three titles in a row. So, finding a word to describe the Neerim South A Grade netball side that won six consecutive flags proves to be a tall order.
It all began in 1981, South had made the A Grade grand final but at halftime found themselves trailing by double digits. Then, coach Harry Wood made a bold move, one that many coaches may not have been brave enough to make.
When Harry and Marg Wood came to Neerim South, taking up coaching roles, the tide started to turn. Vicky Ballantyne, a life member at the Neerim South Football Netball Club said that what Harry brought to the team when he took over as coach was something they’d never seen before.
“Harry was a big key in our winning era, he was an innovator and he wasn’t afraid to speak openly and honestly, and I think that went a long way in us being successful. He would actually get on court with us and play, it made us play harder and prove to him we were the right person for each position,” she said.
That day in 1981, Harry showed exactly why his coaching and ability to gel a side would be a catalyst in the success that awaited them.
He signalled to 16-year-old Debbie Fusinato, who had earlier won the C Grade final, to take up the goal shooter position for the second half of the A Grade final, a move that was met with some angst among the fans watching on.
But, as the third quarter began the shift in momentum was obvious. The court started to open up and the Neerim players began to play with extra gusto enabling South to complete an epic comeback and claim the 1981 A Grade title. A star in Debbie Fusinato was born.
“Deb really turned that grand final around. Harry had to take someone who had been in goals for a long time off, which was a really bold move, but he could see something needed to change and he wasn’t afraid to make changes,” Vicky said.
The next season, Vicky would team up with Jenny Muir, Deb Fusinato and many others to create one of the best A Grade netball sides the league would ever see. The team that took the court in the following decade didn’t know it yet, but together, they would become one of the most feared and talented teams in the region.


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