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30 October 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
What makes an ideal sports nickname?
For many teams it is a zoological talisman – an animal mascot that conjures images of strength, power or athleticism.
Wimmera Netball Association side Ararat is an excellent case in point; the moniker ‘Rats’ has connotations of quickness, agility and cunning.
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But for two of the club’s great netballers of yesteryear, this nickname theory could not be further from the truth.
Gail Dunn and Gayle Dadswell, honoured with association life memberships during September’s best and fairest vote count, were instead known as a pair of lethargic gastropods – Slug and Snail.
“I got my nickname growing up in Ballarat through playing hockey, and it was just Gayle-Snail,” Dadswell said.
“When I moved to Ararat, people I’d played against in country week hockey already knew me as Snail.
“I got called Snail here because they didn’t even know what my real name was.
“Then I started playing netball and met another Gail, who was called Slug.
“At school they had started calling her Snail as well and she didn’t like Snail. She told them, ‘I don’t want to be a Snail, I want to be a Slug!’
“It was totally separate – mine came from Ballarat and I brought it with me to Ararat, and Slug’s started with her school friends.
“Then we played millions of years together as Slug and Snail, which used to totally confuse everyone because they could never remember which one was which.”
Despite their aliases implying slothfulness, the pair was anything but.
During careers spanning three decades they were two of the primary architects of a golden era of Ararat netball.
Dunn started her tenure with the Rats in 1973 and retired in 1996, missing only one of the intervening 23 years.
She won four A Grade team best and fairest awards in 1975, 77, 79 and 94, and played in a remarkable 20 grand finals, winning 12 of them.
A fast and agile centre and wing player, she was often a matchwinner for the Rats.
Dunn also had stints as the association’s secretary and treasurer, and was named Wimmera-Mallee Netball Region netball administrator of the year in 1990.
Dadswell’s resume is no less impressive.
Moving to Ararat in 1977, she had never played netball in her life but had a strong athletic background in hockey and basketball.
She began her netball career with the Rats in B Grade but was quickly promoted.
An amazingly accurate goalie, Dadswell played in 14 grand finals for eight premierships and was the association best and fairest in 1983. She later served as club president and then association president.
But arguably Dadswell’s greatest talent was coaching.
Coaching the Rats both before and after her playing career finished, Dadswell guided the club to 10 grand finals and eight premierships in A Grade, one B Grade grand final and two under-16 grand finals.
As Dunn recalls, Dadswell helped revolutionise the way the sport was coached in the Wimmera by bringing her basketball nous to the netball court.
“Snail’s influence over the club in the years I played was absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
“She was a great coach, but also a great player and mentor.
“Her strategies and her game style were well in advance of what anyone else was doing at the time, and I’d attribute a lot of our success to her skill and coaching style.
“She was one out of the box, was Snail.”
Dadswell said applying strategies from other sports to netball seemed obvious.
“I guess I was a basketballer playing netball, so things like screens and layups just came naturally,” she said.
“I’ve always been a lover of all sports and enjoy tactics.
“At that stage basketball and netball were totally separate – a lot of people didn’t consider them in the same vein, whereas now people use basketball skills in netball.
“It was a natural progression to coaching for me because I was a teacher, so you’re used to addressing people and it doesn’t faze you being the leader.
“I think Slug is a bit shy and would have made a fabulous coach but didn’t necessarily feel comfortable giving her perspective.
“But she was always my offsider and we talked through every coaching decision.”
Dunn said the pair had been ‘shocked’ to learn of their nomination for life memberships but were grateful to be nominated by their good friend and former team-mate Donna Spalding.
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 5 is available online. READ IT HERE!