Netball: End of an era for Seymour

By Dana Johannsen

After a disjointed international career than has spanned 15 years, endured three World Championships, two Commonwealth Games and three children, veteran Silver Ferns midcourter Julie Seymour is calling it quits.

For real this time.

The 38-year-old yesterday announced she was retiring from the international game, signifying the end of an era for the evergreen midcourter.

One of New Zealand's most enduring athletes, Seymour has been a standout competitor on the international netball scene, accumulating 92 test caps since her debut for the Silver Ferns in 1994.

The news Seymour is stepping down is not entirely unexpected, given she has long been considered to be in the twilight of her career. But the real surprise was the revelation that the Canterbury stalwart is doing so as she is pregnant with her fourth child.

However, Seymour said the decision to retire was one she would have made regardless.

"I think baby aside, it feels like the right time to go, leading in to the Commonwealth Games and the World Champs there's a lot coming up over the next couple of years and I think it's the right time to get those young ones through," the Tactix captain said.

While the decision to retire from the Ferns was inevitable, Seymour said it was still a difficult one to make.

"I think whenever my time came up I would feel really sad, part of me wishes she could play forever, but the real side is that it has to come to an end."

However, Seymour believes she is fortunate to be able to play as long as she has and said she never expected to still be playing top-level netball after having three children.

The former skipper first "retired" from the Ferns back in 2002, taking time away from the game to have son Harrison (now 8). Then came Hannah, 6, and Josie, 4, with Seymour returning to the court for the Canterbury Flames in the old domestic league in between times.

While she managed to maintain her super-high fitness levels after having each child and remained one of the best midcourters in the country, Seymour was genuinely surprised when she was recalled to the Ferns in 2006 at 35.

For the past three seasons the former top middle-distance runner has defied the age barrier, continuing to improve with every season.

"If you had asked me back in the 90s, I'd never ever thought I'd still be playing in 2009. These last few years in particular have been a real bonus, to play in the ANZ Champs, this new semi-professional competition, plus to come back in to the Silver Ferns after I'd had my three kids and then to finish being captain as well is just beyond my wildest dreams really."

Likewise when Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken first took over the side in 2002 she never thought Seymour would figure in her plans for as long as she has done. Seymour was Aitken's first captain and not surprisingly the national coach is very sad to see the superfit mother of three step down.

"It's quite a passing of an era really, she's been such an incredible role model and leader over all these years and to think of it without her is quite a challenge really," she said.

Aitken said Seymour's longevity in the sport had been truly inspirational.

"I think it's just testament to her as an athlete and professional that she has just kept on top of her game and actually improved her game as she's gone on."

Seymour is the third member of last year's test side to announce a pregnancy and Aitken jokes there is an alarming trend developing. With defender Leana de Bruin and shooter Daneka Wipiiti both withdrawing from the New Zealand squad as they are expecting their first children, there will be several changes to the Ferns squad this year.

Aitken said that while it would be a challenge to fill the void left by those players, she was grateful that at least they all played in separate areas of the court.

"It was very kind of them not to overload one area of the court ... .but it will test our depth, that's for sure."

- NZ Herald

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