Claire O’Brien admits before this week she had no idea there was a zoo at Dubbo.
The NSW Swifts young gun had never been to Dubbo so had no idea what to expect when her side departed for a regional tour.
But after Thursday morning’s fan meet-and-greet at Taronga Western Plains Zoo O’Brien, and the rest of the squad, was thrilled to have made the trip.
“This is awesome. I can’t say I’ve ever been to Dubbo before but it’s great to see the kids and we’ve had a really good turnout,” O’Brien said, having only made her debut for the Swifts last season.
“It’s definitely all still very new to me and but still getting around the fans is really important to us and we’re really excited.
“It’s something we’ve really wanted to focus on this year, reaching out to our Red Army and getting their support from all over NSW.”
Few fans from Dubbo were as popular with the players as young Ashley Steele.
Steele had every Swift sign her casts after breaking both arms after a fall during representative netball trials.
Each and every one of the Swifts players took the time to share a moment and a laugh with the youngster, who was one of a host of school students there to rub shoulders with the Suncorp Super Netball stars.
With Swifts player also made the most of the opportunity, posting for countless photos with fans of all ages after signing a mountain of autographs.
Part of an effort to connect more with fans from all over the state, the Swifts arrived at the zoo on Wednesday night before spending the morning in Dubbo.
The next stop was then Orange, where a clinic was held with another giant batch of junior players.
But as well as the Swifts having the chance to spend time with fans, it was also an opportunity for the squad, which is integrating some new players, to bond before the 2018 season starts next April.
“It (bus trip to Dubbo) was so much fun. It was another chance for us to get to know each other more and we were playing games and it was very chill. I had a few naps,” O’Brian, 20, laughed.
“But we got to know some more about each other and that was really nice.”
O’Brien, a NSW junior and Australian youth side representative, made a strong impression during her debut campaign with the Swifts.
The NSW side finished the inaugural Suncorp Super Netball season in sixth, missing the finals, but hopes are high heading into 2018.
“I’m so excited,” O’Brien said.
“Obviously 2017 was my first year with the girls and in the league and when I got the offer to play in 2018 I was super keen and felt really privileged to be a part of what we’re building here at the Swifts.”
As a young player entering the the game at a time when netball has been gaining so much attention, O’Brien added there was an amazing energy around the sport at the moment.
“It’s already grown from last year and it’s only growing more and it’s exciting to enter the game and league at the time it is now,” she said.
“It’s all re-shaping and developing and I’m extremely lucky to be a part of it.”