30 Oct 2020

Laura Langman more than just a netball player - Bidwell

10:40 am on 30 October 2020

Opinion - It would be remiss not to reflect on the retirement of one of New Zealand's truly great athletes.

Netball World Cup Semi Final - England v New Zealand - M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool, England - New Zealand's Laura Langman. 2019.

Former Silver Fern Laura Langman. Photo: © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)

Laura Langman was more than just a netball player. She was an inspiration and a phenomenon and someone who doesn't get the credit and profile her achievements deserve.

Having called time on her storied Silver Ferns career earlier this year, the 34-year-old announced her retirement from all netball last week.

Langman's deeds are worth dwelling on, but it is her qualities as a person that mattered the most to the teams she was part of and which will be the hardest to replace.

The midcourter enjoyed a hugely successful career chock full of New Zealand, trans-Tasman, Australian, World Cup and Commonwealth Games titles. One hundred and forty one of her 163 tests for the Silver Ferns were played consecutively, with that astonishing run only broken when Netball New Zealand made her ineligible because of a club contract in Australia.

The Silver Ferns have boasted more highly-skilled or naturally athletic players than Langman, but no-one who got as much out of themselves as she did.

Year after year, training camp after training camp, Langman continued to set new personal bests for strength and conditioning. She constantly strived to broaden her skillset and be a more complete player and to lead in more effective ways.

Whether Langman was captain of a team or not, she was always the player her teammates drew confidence from being alongside.

Many athletes as driven as she was can't laugh at themselves and can't enjoy the team environment or the success of others but Langman always could.

She always knew her own mind, too, and if she didn't agree with what you'd written or a path you were taking an interview down, she would tell you.

Sure, it might be done in a good-humoured way, but there was no mistaking the point Langman sought to make.

There's a famous quote from former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to describe the performance of Roy Keane in a Champions League semifinal against Juventus.

"It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him.''

Netball World Cup 2019 final - Australia v New Zealand - M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool, England,World Cup 2019 winners, New Zealand, during the medal ceremony. Laura Langman with the trophy.

Laura Langman hoists the Netball World Cup following the Silver Ferns win in 2019. Photo: © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)

That's how Langman played, no matter what the stage or who the opponent. She never accepted the notion of lost causes or superior foes, just gritted her teeth and tried harder.

It's said that coach Joe Schmidt was once a no-show for the first day of an Ireland rugby camp. The team completed various fitness and speed tests, but never laid eyes on Schmidt.

It was not until the next day that he appeared, at the front of a meeting room accompanied by footage of the previous day's session.

Time and again, so the story goes, the video showed some of Ireland's senior players cutting corners and stinting in their efforts.

"Do you think Richie McCaw stops a metre short,'' Schmidt barked.

"Do you think Richie McCaw puts his hand near the line or does he bend down and actually touch it.''

Netball's nowhere near as big as football, let alone rugby, but Langman deserves to be in the company of celebrated skippers such as Keane and McCaw. She was every bit as committed and professional and inspiring as they were, if relatively unknown on the world stage.

But she needn't be here. Langman might not be someone who needs a fuss, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make one of her.

I described her at the top as one of our truly great athletes and that's fair. For all McCaw's achievements in rugby, for instance, Langman's were just as significant in netball and yet they largely go unmentioned.

To achieve what she did in her career and to maximise so much of her potential and to also be a leader and a nice person really is remarkable.

"It has been a blast,'' Langman said in the brief Instagram message to announce her retirement.

Yes Laura, it really has.

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