There's always been something a little special about the Magic.
True, they're the oldest netball franchise in the country, and have produced some of New Zealand's most revered and celebrated players of all time – Laura Langman, Irene van Dyk and their current captain, Casey Kopua, among them.
But speaking to the Weekly to celebrate the Splice Construction Magic's 20th anniversary, Casey's got another theory as to what makes the club, well, magic – that good old-fashioned Waikato attitude.
"It's the farm life," she laughs.
"Just like on the farm, we have an attitude that we just have to do what needs to done, with no excuses. It's the sort of stuff that came from my parents, you know – if we didn't do the work on the farm, there'd be no sport! But we're a special breed down here, that's for sure."
Though she assures us that training is in fact done on-court as opposed to in paddocks, there's no denying the impact that the Waikato area has on the franchise, which remains the only Kiwi club to have won an ANZ Championship title when Australian teams were included.
It's a thought shared by head coach and foundation player Amigene Metcalfe (45), who this year has taken the top job for the first time after three years of assisting.
Having been at the club since day dot, she's seen the highs and lows of Kiwi netball, and how much has changed on and off the court.
"We didn't get paid back then, we were juggling training and playing with full-time jobs and families," she tells.
"But apart from that, it's not so different. I know people think it is, but in terms of what was expected of us as players then and what's expected now, it's the same. It makes me sound like a dinosaur, but we still had to turn up strong and ready to go… although I do look back now and think, 'How on earth did I manage to do all of that?'"
"Yeah, it's funny, the game is still the same," adds Casey (33).
"Run, pass, shoot, defend. But it's everything that goes with it that's changed − the nutrition, training, promotion. Everyone's getting fitter and faster, and you have to as well, otherwise you'll get left behind!"
The Magic's 20th birthday is a special milestone for Casey – in her 13 years of playing at club level, she's only ever pulled on the black, red and yellow dress of her home province.
"I mean, when I first started out, I never had any idea I'd still be where I am today, still playing for the same team. But I'm a very loyal person," she says.
"To have formed such great relationships, friendships and connections with the Waikato community, it's just huge for me. I love being part of it because of the people. When I was pregnant with my daughter Maia, or when I've been injured, I've really missed being part of this team, and I know when I retire I'll really miss that part of netball."
That day is coming rather soon, with the veteran Silver Fern retiring from both domestic and international netball at the end of this year. As she puts it, the mind is willing but her body can't quite keep up.
"If I'm selected for the Ferns' World Cup team, that will be it for me," says Casey.
"It would be an ideal way to finish. The only thing playing on my mind is, 'Don't get injured!'"
But before she reports for international duties, the star defender has a whole season of Magic waiting for her, her first under the direction of old mate Amigene.
While the pair has played together for both the Ferns and the Magic, the captain/coach relationship is new for them, though they've had no issues slotting into their dual roles.
"Oh, it's easy because she's just Casey," Amigene laughs.
"She's so hard-working, you know, and we know when to stop being friends and switch into athlete mode. There's a huge mutual respect… and Casey doesn't get grumpy. Well, she does, but it's at herself most of the time! We're able to have pretty honest conversations with each other."
Casey agrees, adding, "For me, it's natural. She's a friend, a mum, a coach, I have the utmost respect for her. She's an absolute legend, you know, she's Magic player number one. But you definitely know when it's business time orwhen you're in trouble!"
A highlight for both is the team's appearance in the very first ANZ Championship in 2008.
And it was after that season that Amigene retired to spend time with her family – kids Georgia (14), Ryan (11) and Kade (9) who, she says, are all sport mad.
"They didn't get much of a choice!" she laughs.
Casey's daughter Maia, who turns three in May, is also showing signs of sporting talent – "we do pass and catch, but she's more interested in her bike and scooter at the moment," smiles the proud mum.
The pair were born and bred in the Waikato, another proud provenance they share, and it's those local connections as well as the community that inspire the duo each week to perform on the court – and who also help out the team with some very quirky features.
"We have the Hobbiton Cup, which is pretty cool," grins Amigene.
"Every year when the Northern Mystics come down and play us at home, we play for the Hobbiton Cup, which was given to us by Hobbiton, who are a team sponsor.
"It's really great actually –the cup's made of wood and hand-painted, it looks like it's come straight out of the Shire!"
The club have also welcomed Splice Construction to their team of partners this year – "They're local people who are passionate about sport and are really competitive, so they're a great fit!" tells Amigene.
Adds Casey, "My family and the families who own both Hobbiton and Splice go back years. My dad played rugby with some of the guys, so it's so cool for local businesses to jump on board with us."
For Casey, the fact she'll be ending her netball career in her beloved Waikato is fitting – and as she and husband Terry have just purchased a new home in a more rural area of the region, her dreams of farm living have come true.
"We move in in May, and I'm so excited," she says.
"It'll be great for Maia – she can look after the chickens. Well actually, with the amount of eggs we eat, we'll need about 20!"
She's looking forward to spending a bit more time with her spirited daughter – which means a lot of bike riding and Paw Patrol reruns are in her immediate future!
"Some of the words that are coming out of her mouth at the moment… it's an interesting time!" she laughs.
"I like to think she's pretty onto it; even her daycare teacher says to me, 'Man, she's got some sass!'
"But I love that – I wouldn't have it any other way!"
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