Superleague Grand Final: Kerry Almond on retirement, emotions and small margins
"I can't sit here and say that I've not thought about it, any player worth their salt would say that they have thought about what it feels like winning a Grand Final."
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 18/05/19 9:14pm
With around a minute to play in Manchester Thunder's semi-final, Kerry Almond allowed herself to take in the emotion of the occasion and gave a little fist pump, she tells Sky Sports that she hopes to be able to do the same again at the end of the Grand Final.
Saturday's title-defining match will not only mark the end of the Vitality Netball Superleague season, but the end of Almond's top-flight netball career.
It is a career that has spanned across 11 seasons. The 33-year-old defender has been formidable from start to finish and played a key role in their 2012 and 2014 title-winning campaigns.
With so much experience banked, Almond knows exactly how to handle the business end of the season and on top of that, the emotions of her final matches in Black and Yellow.
"I didn't want any of the emotion to get involved with it [at the semi-final stage],"Almond told Sky Sports. "I've been in games before where there have been huge emotions involved and, let's just say that it doesn't always go so well.
"The Grand Final is a difficult one because whilst you don't want the emotion to be too much of a part of it, it almost has to. That's because it is a final and both teams will obviously be going out there to pull it out of the bag."
Almond and Manchester Thunder are heading into this Grand Final with a two-nil record over their opponents this season, something that no other side has done. However, for Karen Greig's players that matters little, as the Goal Keeper was quick to point out.
"Until the semi-final, we hadn't beaten Bath this season. We went out there and showed that, at this point in the season, what you've done before doesn't actually matter. It's a game that anyone can step up and win," Almond said.
"Sure it's great knowing that we have taken two wins off them. But, they are a team that step up when it really, really matters (much like ourselves) and I don't think that you can take too much from it at all."
On Saturday it is going to be the small margins. I think, at the end of the day, it’s going to be which team starts better and which team makes the least number of errors.
Kerry Almond's perspective on the Grand Final
Almond and her partner in Thunder's defensive end, Emma Dovey, have been together in their circle for 11 years. Circle players all over the world, playing at any level, will coo at that amount of time and instantly realise the value of such a long-standing relationship.
"I think that certain things are [instinctive]," she added. "Every year we are still learning which is incredible considering that we've been together for so long as a partnership," said the Goal Keeper.
"We are well-aware that because we've been a partnership for so long, teams have kind of worked us out over the years. I do feel like we've added extra things in this year and things that people perhaps haven't seen from us before.
"I think that this year has actually been one of our strongest partnerships, precisely because we have added elements."
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Clearly the days before the Grand Final aren't the time to giveaway those new elements, especially with the prospect of the shooting duo against them in Wasps' Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn. So many will focus on Dunn, rightly so given her form and ability to take hold of a game, but Almond has a wider pre-match view.
"I've played against Rachel for an awful long time and I've had some incredible battles with her," she said. "There's been games where she's come out on top and there have been games where I've come out on top.
"In a match like this, yes they have got certain players that you say, 'We do need to shut that person down'. But, at the same time there are seven on court.
"If you focus on one then they've got players of such calibre that another will just step up. So if you shut Rachel down then Katie Harris will step up and if you shut Jade down in centre court then Bongi or Amy will step up.
"You can't just focus on one player but at the same time you do have to go out there hard from the first whistle. You do have to let them know that you're there but I'm fairly certain that they know that in the first place!"
After the 2016 season, Almond told her director of netball that she wouldn't be returning. However, Greig's powers of persuasion ensured that the 33-year-old continued, until now.
Almond admits that she deliberately made the news of her retirement public because she doesn't want to go back on it. She believes that now is the right time to leave Superleague level.
"I think that it's lots of little things - it's wanting to have a little bit more time for myself and to do all of those things that I've previously had to say, 'I can't sorry, I've got netball'.
"To do a little bit of travelling, the fun things in life and to be able to wake up the morning after training and not be in pain and actually be able to get up and walk when I get out of bed!
"So, It's a bit of everything and a bit of the body going, it's time now Kerry you need to stop it."
One last ride next week with the best team 🖤💛— Kerry Almond (@KerryAlmond) May 11, 2019
Fans as always were epic, the Thunderdome was rocking.
Thank you for all your support and all the messages today. There’s too many to reply to but know that I appreciate every single one of them 🖤💛 #thunderfamily pic.twitter.com/WfdpaDEpHn
Almond and her team-mates spend an awful lot of time together, both on and off the court. They are incredibly proud to represent the north west, in her own words it is "huge" to run out for them and be at the heart of such a passionate and vibrant city.
For both sides, Saturday's Grand Final will be the ultimate test and will be a fitting finish to a Superleague season like no other. It's been the most competitive and high-class competition of all and Almond has 60 minutes left to try and put that final cherry on top of a stellar career.
"I can't sit here and say that I've not thought about it, any player worth their salt would say that they have thought about what it feels like winning a Grand Final," Almond admitted.
"I do think that it would be a very different feeling to the past two [the 2012 and 2014 finals] that we won. I've no doubt that it would be incredibly emotional if it does happen but I guess we'll see.
"All that I can say is that whatever happens on Saturday, the bus journey home on Saturday night is going to be epic! Anyone that knows Thunder will completely understand that!"
Win or lose, the player who has been at the heart of Thunder's defence for so many years will no doubt use the last minute of the Grand Final to take in the emotions of being on court with the players that she classes as "lifelong friends".
If Manchester Thunder are up by a few, then you may well just see a little fist pump again from the woman who has set the standard for so many years.
Watch the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final live on Sky Sports Mix, and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel, on Saturday, May 18 from 5.15pm. Also, Sky Sports will be showing every game of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in July.