IT was perhaps unsurprising Jerra Joeys stalwart Mardi Croke was looking a little the worse for wear after last weekend’s Queanbeyan Netball Association grand final loss to Waratah.
After all, when more than half your teammates are less than half your age, keeping up with the speed of the game never gets any easier.
But having already announced last Sunday’s match would be her last in Jerra colours, the 39-year-old was never going to leave anything on the court.
Although the Joeys eventually proved unable to prevent Waratah winning a third-straight QNA premiership with a 38-30 victory, an emotional Croke said afterward it was the right time to bow out.
“I love my netball and I always have so it’s going to be hard to leave it,” she said as the tears flowed. “I definitely know [it’s time] though, you wouldn’t have thought it [on Saturday] but I’ve lost a bit of the passion this year.
“It’s definitely the right decision [to step away]. I’ll still be floating around, they’ll still see me up here and they’ll still hear me on the sidelines but it’ll just be a bit more on my terms.”
A former QNA Senior Chairperson, Croke played a major role in setting up Jerra’s senior program having previously come through the junior ranks at Waratah.
The veteran also captained the last side to beat Waratah in a first division QNA grand final when the Joeys upset a highly fancied Waratah outfit in the 2008 decider.
And at half-time of last weekend’s title match, it looked as though history would repeat itself in Croke’s farewell game as Jerra stormed out of the blokes to lead 19-17.
15-year-old Joeys centre Georgia Stephinson was everywhere for the underdogs while Croke herself turned back the clock with a dominant second quarter inside the defensive circle.
But as has proved the case repeatedly in big games over the years, Waratah’s class across the court once again came to the fore in the third term as the red and white machine kicked into gear.
With Leanne McGrath and Jenna Spears controlling the midcourt and rookie shooter Abby Stein finding her range, Waratah outscored their youthful opponents 21-11 in the second half to claim a comfortable victory.
“Maybe the pressure towards the end was a little bit too much for us,” Croke acknowledged. “Waratah has got a really good defence with some long arms in there so they held us out.
“We put it all in though, it didn’t fall our way but the girls played well so I’m really proud of them.”