Fleur McIntyre – 50 Years of the Cougar Family

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The Fleur McIntyre story is one of the more remarkable ones in the 50-year history of the Cockburn Cougars and while Wally Hagan Stadium will always feel like home to come back to, the ground breaking she is doing on the national stage is remarkable.

McIntyre had a standout playing career with the Cougars notching 270 games in what was then the SBL competition starting in 1995 before playing one final game in the 2014 season.

She earned life membership during that playing career with the Cougars that included winning the club’s MVP award five times before embarking on a life in coaching that now has already seen her win an NBL championship at the Sydney Kings.

Among the coaching roles McIntyre undertook was with the Cougars Men’s team in the SBL and now NBL1 West competitions, and she soon became too hard to ignore at NBL level for everything she could offer.

That has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman either. McIntyre’s coaching philosophies, basketball IQ and ability to work with players on a physical, emotional and intellectual level have all got her to where she is today.

It just happens to be a bonus that she is breaking down barriers as a female coach in the men’s game and that’s something that is tremendously important to her. But she’ll never forget that it all started for her at Cockburn.

“Every interview that I did this year obviously the focus is on me as a female and that’s absolutely fine, I understand that and we need that spotlight and for people to shine the light on females in men’s elite sport,” McIntyre said.

“But at the same time, I’m me and there is more to me than just being female. That’s something that I really pride myself on with my personality and characteristics and who I am as Fleur McIntyre rather than just who I am as a female.

“I learned a lot this year in terms of X’s and O’s by working with Chase and Kevin Lisch and the rest of the coaching staff. That’s something that I definitely want to grow as well going forward into this next season, but it’s something that I want to keep progress at and getting better with at that level.

“But obviously I had such a great foundation from working with Andrew Cooper and I can’t praise him enough. He’s so diligent with his X’s and O’s and his intellect, and I learned so much off from him over the year with his style of play. I really owe him a lot into how that translated me into getting the opportunity I have with the Kings.”

Breaking down barriers is something that McIntyre has been doing her entire life both in basketball and academically, and it’s something she is always going to be proud of.

But as she said, it’s important for her to get any recognition, opportunities or accolades because she deserves them on merit, and not because she’s a token female.

There’s no doubt that is the case and from the moment she arrived in Sydney to begin helping the Kings prepare for the 2021/22 NBL season, she immediately showed her value to her fellow coaches, the playing group and the entire organisation.

By the end of the season when the Kings won the NBL championship in front of a Grand Final record crowd at Qudos Bank Arena, it was just something that showed to McIntyre what truly is possible.

“It’s something that I don’t take for granted and it’s something that I feel very proud of because I have had a lot of women reach out to me after being involved with the Sydney Kings and the NBL.” McIntyre said.

“It stuns me that I am as visible as I am and it’s a little bit shocking that people are actually watching, but then you actually realise that it’s quite important to see that representation. And I think just the interaction that I have with the players and everyone.

“I think it’s something that is really special and it’s important, but it obviously started down here with me coaching both in the women’s and men’s programs at Cockburn.

“I’ve loved coming back here now and seeing the guys I used to coach, and catching up with them and they are the things that are really important.

“Obviously having representation and being able to have a woman in that role is one thing, but I think when people are able to see it and you make those connection you realise that women can belong in any space that opportunities are provided to them.”

Since the championship triumph that McIntyre was such a big part of with the Kings in the NBL, she has been able to come back home to Perth during the off-season and naturally that has included some pop ins to her old home at Wally Hagan Stadium.

It will always feel like home for McIntyre and with the Cockburn Basketball Association celebrating its 50-year history in 2022, it’s a great chance for her to reflect on just how much the club means to her, but also her family including brother Sheldon who’s also a life member.

“Honestly I just get such a warm feeling of being at home back here at Cockburn. As soon as I walk back in and see so many familiar faces and a lot of new faces, which is great too because that’s how clubs grow and progress. But walking into Cockburn always feels like home,” she said.

“I think it’s more just a result of the feelings you have for the stadium more so than the actual aesthetics of the place. Court 1 is always home and I always get such a nice feeling on there after playing so many games on this court and going through everything during 20 years of what was formerly the SBL.

“This Court 1 in particular fills me with such amazing memories of setting foot on this court every Friday or Saturday night, and even Sundays representing Cockburn at that level. That was amazing.”

The McIntyre family moved from Kalgoorlie to nearby Cockburn in time for Fleur to make her SBL debut with the Cougars in 1995 and the rest is history.

She went on to play 270 games, win five MVP awards and on top of that her brother Sheldon played 205 games including winning two championships, but for McIntyre it’s not necessarily anything that happened on court that stands out when she reflects.

It’s the lifelong bond she has with the club, the stadium and the people involved in a whole variety of ways that stand out to her.

“I walked in here as a 15-year-old and never really left until l moved to Sydney to start this job with the Kings. That is definitely it, it feels like my life and there are so many people that have into my life thanks to this club,” McIntyre said.

“Some of my best friends in the world have been through this basketball club. They are the friendships that I’ve maintained over 20-plus years so that’s the sort of things I think about when I walk into this basketball stadium.

“To see the people down here and all these faces, it certainly brings back the most fondest of memories. Games and things sort of come and go, but it’s the people and the relationships that I think you remember above all else.”

Given their children combined to play 475 games with the Cougars and are both on the life members wall at Wally Hagan Stadium mean that Fleur and Sheldon’s parents have a great affinity as part of the Cougar Family too, and it means the world to the McIntyres.

“My parents made great friends down here as well, Sheldon was obviously down here from the start when he represented Cockburn in the under-14s on a touring team, going to the national championships and ended up captaining the SBL team,” she said.

“No one was happier for him than me when he got to win two championships in particular that last one. I think when you come down here and it’s not just about yourself but it’s the people that you love and your immediate family that makes it all the more special.

“That’s what Cockburn does very well, it’s not just individuals down here, it’s families that are part of this larger family at Cockburn.”

Now when McIntyre returns to Wally Hagan Stadium she can look over and see current leaders like Nicole Roberts and Kirsty Pitcher who she was teammates with at the start of their careers.

She can see Andrew Cooper still coaching the Men’s team and someone like Gavin Field leading the charge who she worked so closely with. That’s why come back will always be like coming home for McIntyre.

“I think it’s the friendships and relationships that stand out even when I look back on my playing days. I think that even now I come down and the leaders of the NBL1 team are girls that were rookies when I was finishing up,” McIntyre said.

“Kirsty Pitcher and Nicole Roberts were rookies later in my career and I coached Nic in juniors so those are the sort of things that I hold really dear to my heart. In terms of playing memories, there’s no real specific games but I just remember the competition.

“Nothing filled me more and it’s probably what I miss the most, than walking out on this floor at home on a Saturday ready to compete with girls that you cared about in the Cockburn uniform.

“That for me provide some of the more special memories. The actual games sort of fade and become a little bit fuzzy but I think it’s those feelings that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

The move to Sydney was a significant one for McIntyre after having had such an affinity to the Cockburn and Fremantle areas for more than 20 years and with all her basketball and professional history tied to the area.

However, a chance to become a full-time NBL assistant coach at a powerhouse organisation like the Sydney Kings was too much to pass up, and 12 months later she was celebrating a championship which she is still pinching herself about.

“It’s really funny because everyone sees the championship and thinks you guys were so talented and so good, and absolutely we were but it was hard, you know. It was exhausting,” McIntyre said.

“We started the season really slow and were 3-6 battling injuries and when you are coaching or playing for the Sydney Kings, there’s a lot of pressure and spotlight that comes onto that organisation.

“So it was a battle and I think the narrative for the whole season was about our talent and depth, which was certainly true, but what I got to see every single day was the sheer toughness of these guys.

“It’s probably something that I think got enough credit across the season, but I just felt so incredibly blessed that I got to work with them every day and saw them compete for where they wanted to go.

“I couldn’t have scripted it any better and it worked out pretty well at the end of the season, and it still feels a little bit surreal that we are now the current champions of the NBL. But what an unbelievable experience for my first season.”

It’s going to be tough for McIntyre to top the high of celebrating that championship triumph too where the Kings wrapped up the Grand Final series against the Tasmania JackJumpers in front of 16,149 people at Qudos Bank Arena.

“That crowd was absolutely nuts. There was a lot of talk about them not knowing what the crowd was going to be like because it was a Wednesday night in Sydney, a 7.30 game and in the end there was just under 16,000 people there,” McIntyre said.

“Qudos was packed and the noise was unbelievable. During the game we were probably a little bit more stressed and anxious because we really wanted to close it out to give the Sydney fans the celebration at home they deserved.

“So during the game I mainly felt a little bit tense about it because we weren’t playing very well, the JackJumpers were playing great and it wasn’t until the buzzer sounded and it was sheer relief.

“Then being on court and having family and friends to celebrate with, and looking up at the crowd and seeing the joy for everyone was the most unbelievable feeling.

“It’s something that I will need to go back and have a closer look at the film because I haven’t looked at it since but it was such a beautiful experience that Wednesday night.”