Anna Harrington/AAP News
Netballer is broken to tears as she receives Birmingham Games selection news.
Ash Brazill used to sneak away after her netball games to play footy.
Now, the decision to step away from her second love has helped the 32-year-old fulfil a lifelong dream.
Brazill was at the airport with wife Brooke and her Collingwood netball teammates when Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich burst into tears on the phone, then broke the biggest news of her career – selection for Birmingham 2022.
“Stace doesn’t get emotional like that,” Brazill told AAP.
“So I was like ‘I’m not in’ and then she said ‘pack your bags because you’re going to England.’
“Then I lost it and I don’t think we spoke for like two minutes because I just was crying.
“To react like that. I was like ‘this actually means more to me than I realised’.
“For me personally, to debut at a Comm Games at 32 is something I’d never thought would happen.”
Brazill had plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, after being overlooked for the 2018 squad on the Gold Coast.
“Before the last Comm Games and the last World Cup was probably the best netball I’ve ever played in my career and I didn’t make the team, I didn’t even make the squad to make the team,” she said.
“When you’re playing pretty good netball, you feel like you’re at your peak and you still can’t break into the squad, you question your game, you question the sport and you just believe you’re probably never going to be good enough.”
So devastated was Brazill, she contemplated on multiple occasions opting out of Diamonds selection altogether, before copping a reality check from a then-teammate.
“Nat Medhurst actually said to me: ‘Brazzy, make them say no to you. You want this, so don’t take the easy way out’,” Brazill said.
“I had a bit of a step back, felt a little bit embarrassed and took her advice and obviously kept going year after year.”
In 2019, Brazill thrived in both football and netball.
She returned to the Diamonds, was an AFLW All-Australia n with Collingwood and living the dream.
Then her ACL ruptured in a Collingwood AFLW game at Marvel Stadium in February 2020.
“To be honest, it’s probably something I needed,” Brazill said.
“Because it made me think ‘well what do I want? This is probably a turning point in my career. I’m not a young 18 year old that will just bounce back from this’.”
Weeks after Brazill’s injury, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The memory of beating New Zealand in Perth pushed Brazill through lonely months of rehab in her spare bedroom – then back into form in both sports.
“I felt like I wasn’t done,” she said.
“That driving force to get back into the Diamonds is something that pushed me through to get my knee right and to not take shortcuts.”
Brazill dominated in her first Diamonds match since 2019 in January, turning in a player-of-the-match performance to help sink New Zealand in London.
But she’d initially planned to return to footy.
Brazill had taken a happy-go-lucky approach to the prospect of injuring herself at football, noting “you can get hurt anywhere”.
Then her wife offered another perspective.
“We had a big chat,” Brazill said.
“Brooke was like ‘we moved to Melbourne for you to make the Diamonds. The whole of our family have moved here and we’ve given up being with our friends and family for this moment’.
“It just reminded me, when I was a five-year-old I used to put all my dolls around my room and my teddy bears and sign autographs and pretend I’d win a gold medal.”
Brazill pulled out of the AFLW season in February.
The mature decision was a far cry from the antics of a much-younger Brazill.
Early in her Diamonds career, while playing for the West Coast Fever, she secretly played games in the WA state footy league.
Unfortunately, she was too good for it to stay a secret.
“I got rookie of the year, I only played five games before finals,” Brazill said.
“I had Norma Plummer (as coach), who is pretty scary. So getting called into the CEO’s office with him and her was pretty scary.
“Then knowing what it’s about, seeing the paper on the desk as I walk in, I was like: ‘here we go’.
“Being a bit older, looking back now, I was probably a very silly athlete doing that, but it’s part of my story and part of my journey and I’d do it again because it’s gotten me where I am now.”
Brazill has the full support of Collingwood to step away from football, and is contracted for the upcoming season.
But any decision on her immediate AFLW playing future will wait until after the bid for gold.
Brazill is on the comeback trail from a recent bout of COVID-19 but is set to be primed for July’s Games.
Brooke, Louis and Frankie will all travel to Birmingham too, with Brazill happily bracing herself for 24 hours of flying with two children under three.
“I’ve always pictured when I’d do something like this, I’d have a family and being a female athlete that’s so rare because most of the time you’re the one having the baby so you’re out of the sport for a certain amount of time,” she said.
“I used to watch footy and be jealous of the male athletes running out onto the field on their 100th game or their 200th game, or the grand final, with a kid in their arms.
“So for Comm Games, and even just the lead-up, having them by my side and seeing Brooke with them as well – I’m literally living my best life at the moment.”