Top flight experience as asset

Headshot of Justin Fris
Justin FrisSouth Western Times
Erin Culnane (right) on a trip to Perth with the Sydney Swifts in 1997. She is pictured here with Chelsey Mardon from the Perth Orioles, who was a former teammate of hers in WA.
Camera IconErin Culnane (right) on a trip to Perth with the Sydney Swifts in 1997. She is pictured here with Chelsey Mardon from the Perth Orioles, who was a former teammate of hers in WA. Credit: Ron D’Raine

Long before sell-out crowds, pay TV deals and expensive international recruits, netball in Australia looked very different.

However during this period, ECU Souwest Jets coach Erin Culnane was a part of the Australia’s undisputed superpower club.

Between 1997-2007, the Sydney Swifts achieved unrivalled success in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy competition, with coach Julie Fitzgerald guiding the club into the finals every year.

Culnane, who is a Swifts foundation player, displayed tremendous courage in 1997 after recovering from a massive injury.

“I was playing for the Coastal Raiders in the preceding Super League, which was a competition between the premiers from each State in a pre-season carnival,” Culnane said.

“After playing the year before (1996), I tore my ACL, so I was coming off the back of the reconstruction. I had also just got married and moved over to Sydney when they called for Swifts applications.

“In those days, there was a trial, but you put your CV together, filled in a form and wrote a letter stating that you would like to be considered.

“I was really rapt to be invited into it. My teammate Liz Ellis might have given me a leg up, given our time at the AIS together, but I guess I was just an unknown lucky factor to get a gig during those early years.”

While Culnane may be modest about her 12 game stint in the top flight, the commitment she and her teammates displayed in juggling full-time employment, training, travel and personal relationships is nothing short of inspiring.

“Things were very different back then,” she said. “There was not a lot of money around. We basically got a bit of cash in an envelope when we played a game.

“The rest of time we were working full-time, so it was a bit of a struggle. It took me an hour to get to training and back again when I was working at the children’s hospital. It was a huge undertaking to be a part of that.

“They (the Swifts) were emerging in terms of their professionalism and some of the money coming through the competition, but it was very much early days in terms of what the competition is now.

“I was playing wing and goal defence, but I was probably fourth in line. I did not get a lot of court time, so it was frustrating from that point of view as I would have loved to build on my game and skills at that level.”

Now as a coach and parent, Culnane prides herself on getting the best out of her players, by drawing on her professional experience.

“The holistic approach to coaching is to understand and know the whole person,” she said. “Not just be aware of their on-court persona, but what they are doing and struggling with away from netball.

“Because nothing is done in a bubble. These kids are just going through life, growing up and taking on challenges.

“I know looking back on my own career, there were times which were tough to commit to the schedule and what was needed.

“So I guess I am quite understanding from that perspective and I also know what it takes to play at that level and how they train.”

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