FOR Ash Mangan (pictured) the prospect of playing in this weekend’s big dance still causes butterflies to stir in her stomach.
“I’m lucky to play a grand final with these girls two years in a row,” she said.
“I still get just as excited and nervous as I did before my first grand final.”
Launching her career in 2003 at the tender age of 13, Mangan has notched up a few grand finals in her time – nine to be exact.
The local netball star won five of those with the Bombers A grade side and has been crowned the Wellman Family medallist three times.
Joining the City West Falcons in 2014, Mangan’s brief stint in the Victorian Netball League was cut short after she suffered a knee injury.
Bouncing back stronger than ever, the goal defence has vice-captained an undefeated side this year and reached her 250-game milestone.
But while Mangan has seen her fair share of grand finals, she refuses to take any game lightly.
“I go into every game knowing I have a job to do, it’s not just going to happen. You do have to work hard, stay together as a team and get on with it,” she said.
“Whether you’re undefeated or not, that’s a reality.”
Having just played two tough rounds against the Shepparton Bears and Shepparton United, the Bombers are aware, more than ever, that premierships don’t just fall into your lap.
“The last two games have been character-building and have really challenged us, as well as the game in round 13 where we only won against Shepparton by six goals,” Mangan said.
“Last week’s game against United was particularly challenging as we briefly forgot to enjoy the game. We need to know that these tough games will happen, and we need to have fun no matter how they unfold.
“It felt really hard out there but Belinda (Lees) really encouraged us, saying, ‘We’ve just come back from a massive deficit, you’ve played with real heart and you should be proud of that.’”
Despite a long and celebrated netball career, Mangan’s not throwing in the towel any time soon.
A love of the game – and her tight-knit squad of teammates – keeps her coming back to the Kyabram courts each year.
“Playing with this group of girls each and every week is so special,” she said.
“We’re just such good friends. Last week we trained and then went back to one of the girl’s houses, had tea together and watched the Bachelor finale.
“I’m proud to be a part of this team. I’m proud of each and every one of the girls and how they develop year after year.”