Beck O'Connell is a household name across the region's three major netball leagues. Having been crowned the best and fairest player in the Ovens and Murray, Hume and Tallangatta and District competitions, you could say she's in a league of her own. The star midcourt player caught up with The Border Mail's GEORGIA SMITH this week to discuss netball, family, and how fate led to the two going hand-in-hand.
GEORGIA SMITH: Your story doesn't quite start on the border?
BECK O'CONNELL: It starts in Sydney actually. My dad was in the army and I think I went to about three different primary schools before we came here. I started playing in a Saturday morning netball competition in Sydney when I was about seven, but didn't get into club or representative netball until we moved here. It was just so refreshing that sport was so accessible.
GS: There's a bit of a sport gene in your family?
BO'C: My uncle (Geoff Didier) had an overseas tour with the Wallabies and had 400 games for the Royals, as well as Canberra. He's an amazing athlete, and his son (Duke), went to the Commonwealth Games for judo and now does MMA fighting. Mum (Kathy) has done about eight marathons, and my dad (Richard) is the type of man who will go to the shed and break something just to fix it. He's very clever, and my brother (Chris) is similar.
GS: You were a teenager when you played your first A-grade game for Wodonga?
BO'C: I would have been about 16. The last game I played for Wodonga was the 2002 premiership.
GS: It was a strong era for the club?
BO'C: There were some phenomenal players during that period. Kelli Moylan was our coach and we had players like Abbey O'Brien, Rebecca Cameron and Kylie Murphy. It was just a given at that time that they would play somewhere in finals.
GS: You left the club after 2002?
BO'C: I moved to Melbourne after that and had three amazing years there. I was also in Broome for 12 months before going back to Melbourne.
GS: You joined Hume City, now known as the City West Falcons?
BO'C: That was probably one of the best experiences I've had in regards to netball. I learnt so much in that 12 months. It was just about doing the really small things well, and the rest will come.
GS: You then crossed paths with O and M legend Lindy Singleton?
BO'C: Halfway through 2008 I ran into Lindy and she said, 'if you're ever home and want a game of O and M let me know, I'm coaching.' I was thinking C-grade? Sure I'll have a run around. She said 'no, A-grade,' That just blew my mind because you didn't just get fill-ins for A-grade.
GS: But you took her up on the offer?
BO'C: I did and it was for Corowa. They didn't side an A-grade team the previous year and that has never happened before. They were starting from the ground up. I had so much fun and said I'd be coming back home a few weeks later if they were stuck.
GS: The next game was pretty memorable?
BO'C: We were playing Wang Magpies at Corowa and I won the mug for the first time. We went to the pub and I was having a chat to Kade Kuschert at the bar and one of the other boys walked up. Kade said 'Beck, this is Jimmy O'Connell, Jimmy this is Beck.' I was like 'G'day, how are you going?' He just kind of looked at me and went 'g'day' and ordered his drinks. I thought, well don't give me too much of your time.
GS: But he did give you more of his time?
BO'C: Funnily enough we were drinking more and chatting and went up to the Newy at Corowa. Next thing you know Beck and Jimmy are having a bit of a pash on the dance floor. I didn't miss a game for the rest of the season and now we're married with three kids.
GS: It was fate?
BO'C: It was his intent to go home after the game, but they won when they weren't expected to. There were so many factors that contributed. He'll often say to me as a joke, 'I should have gone home that night.'
GS: Some credit has to go to Lindy as well?
BO'C: I owe her a beer or something.
GS: It marked just the start of your time at Corowa?
BO'C: In 2009 I moved back and took on an assistant coaching role under Lindy. I would take the weekly training with her input and she would be the one making the decisions on Saturday. The following year we role reversed and she became my assistant and support.
GS: That's where your passion for coaching began?
BO'C: That's contributed to why I'm so passionate about coaches giving new coaches good experiences, because I was so lucky that I had such a great experience to become a coach.
GS: In 2010 you became the first player from the club to win a Toni Wilson Medal?
BO'C: It was ironic because Lindy won the B-grade the same night for Corowa. It was amazing to be able to share that with her. It was such a whirlwind. I never went to a league count when I played for Wodonga and at the time I probably didn't understand the status of it.
GS: Things started to look up for Corowa in 2014?
BO'C: One last piece was missing and then Sophie Hanrahan came from CDHBU and completed the puzzle. We know she's a phenomenal defender, but we needed a goaler and she shot as well. We had Jess Bice in the team, who I think is one of the most underrated players in the O and M. There was also Ruby and Cath Svarc, who are now AFLW players, and Simone and Katie Hanrahan.
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GS: But coaching wasn't always an easy job?
BO'C: 2015 was probably my most challenging year. I was pregnant with Abigail and I didn't play for majority of the season. It probably taught me that you have to have difficult conversations and address things as they hit. It was disheartening because I didn't do a very good job that year, and I know that. Then I felt it was time to move on.
GS: What led you to Billabong Crows?
BO'C: It was funny because Jimmy and I had spoken about what we were going to do and were discussing Hume League clubs. Ironically the next week I had a message from Katrina Knight from Oakland asking if I'd have a conversation with them about coaching.
GS: What was your first thought?
BO'C: I rang Jimmy and said 'who are the Crows?' He asked why and I said 'would you play there?' He said 'yeah, but do you know where it is? You couldn't get any further if you tried.'
GS: What got you over the line?
BO'C: We met with Danny Stevens, who was the senior coach at the time, and Katrina. They said if you come out, we want you to coach all four senior sides. Abigail was only about six weeks old at that stage. They walked out the door and Jimmy and I just both went, yep. They were amazing.
GS: You made finals the first year?
BO'C: We won our first and lost our second game. I lined up on Alyce Parker and she was incredible. The following year we made the grand final and lost to BB Saints.
GS: You also claimed a Hume League medal in 2016?
BO'C: It was a shock, they all have been. You don't ever walk into a league count and go I've got this in the bag. The Crows table is always one of the biggest because so many people participate.
GS: Then it was third time lucky?
BO'C: The 2018 premiership was amazing for the club. It had a similar feel to the preliminary final with Corowa in 2014. I remember looking up at the hill at Albury and the whole left-hand side was just a sea of royal blue. When we made three consecutive finals for Crows, it was the same thing. There was just so much merch, streamers, posters and support. They just do everything well. The organisation of the netball and football is awesome, and the social side is just brilliant.
GS: What made you head back to Corowa in 2019?
BO'C: The club had contacted Jimmy and said that he was on 90 plus games. To get to that 100 milestone was something that I thought he deserved. He started playing seniors at a really young age and had a lot of injuries.
GS: You won a B-grade flag with Corowa, then decided to join some different Roos?
BO'C: Joining Yack was like walking into the Crows. I felt like I had been there the whole time.
GS: You already knew a few people there?
BO'C: I played with Nicky Coleman at Wodonga, and Jess Garland is just phenomenal. We've always played against each other, and being older, I had watched her come through the gates at North Albury at a young age and move to Albury and blossom. It's been fantastic to now be able to be her teammate. She has a very similar style to Rikki Robb at the Crows. As a midcourt player, they just make you look good.
GS: Your TDNA medal this year came as a surprise?
BO'C: We had four players from Yack invited, and when the Team of the Year was read out, I thought Alana Sutton had it in the bag. I was watching the count on my phone and after the first four rounds some of the girls started messaging me. The messages were dropping down and I couldn't see the count or the leader board. I would love to be able to redo my acceptance speech.
GS: You've only ever missed one season due to pregnancy?
BO'C: I have two summer babies (Lizzy and Mickey) and missed the season pregnant with Abigail. Lizzy was an emergency caesarean, which wasn't expected.
GS: Did it take you long to get back on court?
BO'C: I was back playing Thursday morning mummy netball a couple of weeks later. I look back and think, should I really have done that? But I just had to get back into it. I said to the girls, if you put a ball too far out in front of me I won't go for it.
GS: Did you play for as long as you could while you were pregnant?
BO'C: The thing with playing pregnant is it's probably more about your opponent. I think when you're making the decision to play, you need to also think about them and how they would feel if you were to were to get injured.
GS: Your kids play sport?
BO'C: Lizzy is right into netball and Mickey loves footy and basketball. Abigail has just turned six, so next year will be when we sign her up. She's adamant that she wants to do gymnastics and karate. Jimmy talks every year about retiring, but I'll believe it when I see it.
GS: You have high hopes for Yack next year?
BO'C: Every game you play, you're playing for a flag. We made a really great start this season so hopefully we can have a good year.
GS: Hope to keep playing for as long as you can?
BO'C: It's inevitable at some point that I'll either have to scale back or stop. It's one of those things where I think I'll know when the time is right to make the decision. I think it would almost be unfair to still be playing A-grade if the kids start at a club and are playing at 9am. After 2015, I can't see myself being a sideline coach. I might do the juniors, then there's no way I can get on court with them.
GS: Fair to say netball has been a massive part of you life?
BO'C: I think that's fair, it's given me so much in regards to my family and friendships. I just love being out on court. It sounds corny, but I just love everything about it.
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