BENDIGO'S Super Netball star Caitlin Thwaites has reflected on the gamut of emotions experienced as part of a season like no other, which ended on Sunday in premiership glory.
The 33-year-old played a starring role at goal attack in the Vixens' third grand final win and their first since 2014.
Their stirring 66-64 victory against the West Coast Fever ensured Thwaites ended her national league career with a premiership having announced her decision to retire at the end of the season weeks earlier.
Speaking on RSN 927 AM on Monday morning, Thwaites told of the emotional rollercoaster of months away from home and friends and family and the excitement and relief of premiership success.
"I'm excited and happy - that's the biggest thing that comes to me - but the next thing is the thank goodness we get to come home, we get to see our family," she said.
"That's the next thing, that sense of relief ... that everything that we've been through has been worth it because we've managed to get here.
"That initial happiness and excitement and feeling so proud of everybody that done so much to get this up and running and happening, and all of of our team who have been through so much.
"I'm super proud of all of that, but when my brain looks to start looking forward, I'm also very grateful we are coming home soon."
Thwaites opened up on the myriad of challenges faced by players and coaches during the 90-plus days in their Queensland hub and the personal toll it had taken on players.
"Just in comparison to the footy guys, the footy guys have been able to have their families up here (in Queensland); it's incredible they have had that, but we've not had any of that," she said.
"Even for the likes of Tegs (Tegan Philip) and myself, who were retiring, we weren't able to get our family up here to just be able to see that last game, or even to see one last game.
"So, potential quarantine and things like that might have been on the cards, but we couldn't have our family or anybody here for the entire season.
"For me, it's normally just having that time and space away from the group, all of those types of things.
"Early on, we moved hotels and got about 45 minutes' notice we were moving from one accommodation to another accommodation. My room-mate was actually out at a medical appointment when I found that out.
"I had 45 minutes to pack up my own stuff, pack up my roomies stuff and get everything downstairs. And I had a Zoom meeting happening at the same time.
"There's just been the craziest scenarios and the craziest things that we've had thrown at us with everything that's unfolded. The uncertainty around what it was going to be like, how we were going to deal with it up here, and for me, whether I was going to be able to stay for the entire 14 weeks.
"I thought that potentially I might need to go home just with the family circumstances and things like that.
"It has been incredibly difficult just being away from your support network and your family.
"You get that sense or feeling of guilt that you are not there with your family and able to help and support and know first-hand what it's like for them too - to be able to provide them with support but not actually fully understand what it's been like.
"There's so many emotions attached to it, so it has been really hard."
In the moments after Sunday's win, Thwaites was quick to give a shout-out to her parents Patrick and Glenda back home in Bendigo.
"I love you to my parents, I absolutely love you and I can't wait to see you," she said.
Thwaites, who played in the club's first premiership in 2009 and returned to the Vixens' den at the end of the 2018 season, said the grand final win and the realisation she had played her 232nd and final national league game had yet to sink in.
"(Sunday), I was just trying to embrace all of those things that I really normally don't like, like feeling sick before you're about to go out there," she said.
"It was just trying to embrace those because I know I'm not going to feel them again.
"That will go into the corner of mind as the one time I didn't mind ripping off the strapping at the end and all that kind of stuff.
"Down the track I'll probably start realising, 'oh my goodness, I'm not actually going to do that again' and it was pretty awesome."
Thwaites leaves the game having played 232 games across 18 seasons in the national league, starting with Melbourne Kestrels in 2002.
Along the way she earned 55 national caps with the Australian Diamonds, highlighted by gold medals wins at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 World Cup.
It has been incredibly difficult just being away from your support network and your family.Caitlin Thwaites
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