Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: Fast track to the top

Bailey Mes. Photo / Dean Purcell
Bailey Mes. Photo / Dean Purcell

In the realms of selection surprises in sport, the elevation of Bailey Mes to the Silver Ferns belongs in another stratosphere.

Mes, expected to make her debut next Sunday against South Africa, was such a selection shock even Ferns coach Wai Taumaunu was surprised she made the team.

The 23-year-old Mystics utility hadn't even played one full game in this year's ANZ Championship (she appeared in just one quarter) and was not in the picture coming into the Silver Ferns trials.

"She hadn't crossed my mind," admits Taumaunu. "I have to say she wasn't on my radar going into the trials. I thought there might be a bolter - especially at wing attack - but I didn't think it was going to be Bailey. I hadn't been expecting to pick her."

So what happened?

Taumaunu says Mes shone in the first few practice games in trials and steadily improved from there. Playing at goal attack, she combined well with Irene van Dyk, shot 10 from 10 and later impressed with her possession rates and feeding on the wing.

"They were reasonably small things but they were things that other players weren't doing," says Taumaunu. "She stood out from the outset."

Gradually she entered Taumaunu's thinking and other cards fell in Mes' favour. The fact it is two years to the next pinnacle events leaves more leeway for experimentation and the strong trial form of Jodi Brown allowed Taumaunu to balance her options.

"The turning point was probably when Jodi [Brown] came into the picture," says Taumaunu, "Jodi is so experienced at the attack end and is a wing attack option as well. Taking someone as experienced as Jodi made it easier to take a punt. "

Such gambles have been made in other sports - think of an 18-year-old Daniel Vettori being picked for the Black Caps after a handful of first-class matches, Krisnan Inu making the Kiwis with one NRL game under his belt and Isaia Toeava being fast tracked into the All Blacks before he had played Super Rugby. They used to be fairly common in netball too; Taumaunu was just 18 when she made the Ferns for the first time and others such as Margaret Forsyth and Rita Fatialofa was picked as inexperienced teenagers. But, since the ANZ Championship began in 2008, no one has been selected for the Ferns off such limited game time. Aside from her quarter this year, Mes didn't figure at all in 2010 and featured (briefly) in three matches last year.

"I'm still trying to take it all in," says Mes. "It's been a whirlwind and I'm learning so much. I do sit back at times and think it's crazy and at the beginning it was definitely overwhelming but I have passed that point now."

Mes, who has also played volleyball and basketball and is completing a degree in health sciences, has been soaking up as much as she can across the Constellation Cup but knows the spotlight will fall on her when she takes the court during the Quad Series.

"Obviously there is a bit of added pressure because no one has actually seen me play," says Mes. "Everyone has their opinion about how I got here but I'm trying not to think about it. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't shown there was something I had to offer. I don't think I will be thrown into any situation I can't handle."

Looking back to six weeks ago, the 1.86m Mes admits it was a surprise just to be invited into trials: "I went in thinking I just need to give it everything because even to get a trial was a shock, to be honest. It was a frustrating season at the Mystics and even that quarter I played wasn't great; 15 minutes is nothing and I probably touched the ball a couple of times."

"The first couple of days [at trials] felt good and then I was included in a Probables vs Possibles match. That was probably the point where I though I had a chance and after that I thought 'right, wow, this could actually happen'."

Taumaunu reports that Mes has settled well into the environment and is working hard on the areas she has been asked to focus on - her possession rates, her availability and her error rates.

"The proof will be in the pudding," says Taumaunu. "I've been impressed with everything she has done since coming into the national environment. But she'll need to translate that training form into game situations. She was a punt and I have made that quite clear to her."

- Herald on Sunday

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