Netball

No boring stories of glory days for Magic’s boss

She may have been one of our greatest Silver Ferns – plucked out of high school to play for her country – and one half of the legendary “Two Margs”. Yet Margaret Forsyth wasn’t surprised to find many of the Magic team she now coaches knew nothing of her past netball life.

She would have preferred it had stayed that way. And it might have, if it wasn’t for Facebook bursting the bubble.

“One of our players was looking through a dusty, old netball book and found a photo of me from my playing days. She posted it on our team Facebook page, and it was a great source of humour and enjoyment for the team. Yes, that’s what we used to wear back in those days!” Forsyth laughs.

Although the two-time world champion could regale her ANZ Premiership players with many great netball memories, she chooses not to. “I think it’s important that we get on with our jobs, and don’t dwell in the past,” she says.

But she can still subtly call on that wealth of experience from 30 years ago. Although she concedes the game has become faster and more physical, the skills required – and the mentality “to perform in critical moments and know how to win”- remain the same.

Forsyth was just 17, in her final year at Hillcrest High in Hamilton, when she was first chosen to play for New Zealand in 1979 – the year New Zealand shared the world champions title with Australia and Trinidad & Tobago.

Teaming up with Margaret Matenga in the circle, they became renowned as “The Two Margs”- a shooting duo rarely outclassed in international netball throughout the 1980s. Goal attack Forsyth was determined, athletic (in fact, a national pentathlon champion) and ice-cool under the hoop – although she argues her shooting was nowhere near as on-song as the Magic’s Lenize Potgieter and Monica Falkner achieve today.

Forsyth’s international career continued through to New Zealand’s victory at the 1987 world championships in Glasgow – making her one of just a handful of Silver Ferns to have won two world titles. After that, a painful degenerative knee injury ended her playing days.

 Marg Forsyth (GA bib). watches on as Leigh Gibbs leaps for the ball in a 1982 test v Australia. 

She immediately cut her coaching teeth with the successful Verdettes club side in Waikato with fellow Fern Tracey Fear. Forsyth then raised three sons, worked as a teacher, spent five years in the police force, before being elected on to the Hamilton City Council.

It’s now a full-time appointment as head coach of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic – her first time in the role. And it’s a job she admits she’s enjoying, particularly as her young team, almost unrecognisable from last season, have started the new elite league a lot stronger than many pundits expected.

After seven games, the Magic have scored five wins to sit second on the ladder, one down from the yet-to-be-toppled Southern Steel. “I’d like to think we’ve flown under the radar, just concentrating on doing what we have to do, then making people sit up and notice us,” Forsyth says.

The Magic get another shot at both teams they’ve fallen to – the Northern Mystics and the Steel – over the next five days. That’s one of the features of this league that appeals to Forsyth – playing each team three times in the regular season. “You’re able to take what you learned from your losses, and have another crack at them,” she says.

Forsyth had always hankered to reignite her coaching career, and work at the top level of netball. High performance sport has always held her interest - her sons competed at national age group and development levels in rugby, rowing and athletics. She was assistant coach to Australian Julie Fitzgerald with the Magic for two seasons in the ANZ Championship, and last year headed the WBOP team in the Beko second-tier league.

She’s also in her final year of three in the Coach Accelerator programme, run by High Performance Sport NZ. Her six classmates include All Whites head coach Anthony Hudson and Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

“I attribute my growth as a coach to that programme. It’s really helped me with my approach, to learn more about myself, and to share experiences with other high performance coaches,” she says. “I’m also learning a lot on the job, which is part of the landscape. Having to perform week in, week out for 15 games is something we’re all learning how to do.

“Everyone has their opinion on what’s good and bad about this new competition, but it’s our reality, and I like it. We’ve had the full range of experiences - we got off to a roaring start beating teams by 20, we had a couple of hiccups, then we’ve held out in some pretty close encounters. It’s all been good netball.”

Developing promising young players, like goal attack Monica Falkner and midcourter Ariana Cable-Dixon is also part of Forsyth’s mandate, and she’s also working to advance the skills of South African goal shoot Potgieter.

“To have come across the world, and be willing to give this opportunity a go, shows me she is courageous, committed, adventurous and open. Her style of game was quite static, but she’s responded well to being asked to move more,” Forsyth says.

Potgieter is the second most prolific shooter in the league (albeit 101 goals behind the Steel’s shooting machine Jhaniele Fowler-Reid).

Forsyth is also grateful she has the legendary Casey Kopua, her Magic captain, to call on. “She’s come back playing great netball; she’s a great leader,” she says.

And it turns out Kopua’s daughter, Maia – who is about to turn one - is also an important member of the Magic team. “We’re recruiting very young now,” Forsyth laughs. “She comes to our trainings, and we’ve watched her take her first steps. She certainly knows what a netball is – she grabs the nearest one, and it’s a hard job to get it off her!

“It’s important to include Maia in our Magic family. Casey is not just a netballer; she’s a wife and mother now. And we know that a happy player is a better player.”

A victory over the undefeated Steel in Rotorua this Sunday would make a perfect first Mother’s Day for Kopua. And Forsyth believes it’s within the Magic’s grasp.

“Every team is beatable,” she says. “If you start thinking ‘How will we stop Jhaniele?’ then you’re looking at the wrong end of it. Getting the ball before it gets to that end, and ends up in her hands, is what you have to do.”

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