To know Emily Mannix’s history with the Melbourne Vixens is to understand her excitement after last Sunday’s inspired semi final defeat of their arch-rival Magpies.
The team’s first finals victory in the three Suncorp Super Netball seasons was Mannix’s first, ever, wearing her treasured Vixens’ dress.
Among her fellow starting seven, Renae Ingles and Caity Thwaites were members of the 2009 ANZ Championship-winning team, before continuing their celebrated careers interstate or overseas. Tegan Philip was part of the 2014 flag, as were Mannix’s junior contemporaries Kate Moloney, Liz Watson and Jo Weston.
“I’m pretty sure this is the first final I ever won,’’ said the star goalkeeper, before chronicling her four previous seasons. “The first year, 2015, we didn’t make finals. In 2016 we lost to Swifts in the first final, and then obviously in 2017 we got bombed out in straight sets.
“I was wondering why I was so happy after the game in the finals and then it was ‘actually, because we’ve won’ - that’ll do it! So, my reaction was a little bit OTT, but that’s all right.’’
Of course it is, and coach Simone McKinnis told the media post-match as they/we attempted to throw forward to Sunday’s preliminary final against the NSW Swifts that they would celebrate a marvellous moment before starting to plot the next success.
Considering how precarious things had seemed after three successive losses in the pre-final’s rounds, including by 11 goals to the Magpies in round 14, the minor semi final was a memorable momentum-changer, with Mannix superb against Shimona Nelson, and responsible for a game-high four intercepts and five gains.
“It’s not like we lost belief, but we got a bit of a foot up the bum in terms of we can’t just cruise through it, and I think that was our mindset going into it,’’ Mannix said.
“We had to put our best foot forward and absolutely go into it like we were playing a grand final, because the Magpies are a very quality team, and they proved that to us the week before.’’
More of the same will be needed against the Swifts - the only other team to have beaten the Vixens twice in the home-and-away season. But, then again, we know what happened next to the Magpies, who - after four consecutive losses to the Vixens in seasons one and two - had been superior in rounds seven and 14.
Sydney’s Quaycentre will host the latest instalment of the famous Victoria-NSW rivalry. The Vixens and Swifts are the two establishment teams from the biggest states - and, with grand final hosts the Sunshine Coast Lightning, among the three clear SSN standouts in 2019.
Mannix laments how poorly the Vixens played in their earlier efforts this season. “I don’t think we showcased what we are capable of, and I think we let a bit of that out on the weekend,’’ she said.
“So hopefully Swifts have looked at that and seen what we are capable of and are hopefully a little bit scared! But I think it’s going to be a really ripper game. They’re coming off a (semi final) loss against Lightning, which I’m sure they’re pretty disappointed with, and they’ll definitely come out firing.’’
For Mannix, after a 2018 in which she suffered a traumatic concussion during the summer, then a finger injury which cost her a big chunk at the pointy end, there has been much to be proud of in a season in which she will be among the contenders for the Sharelle McMahon Medal.
“It’s been so good,’’ the 25-year-old said of her extended return to full health. “Just for my confidence, as well, to be able to play several games in a row, even, without some little mishap or ridiculous injury that comes along!
“Getting through a full pre-season, and a January Diamonds tour and a World Cup training partner campaign…to be able to do all that and still be feeling really good and fresh still, even to be able to push on for these - hopefully - next couple of weeks, has been really good. I’ve loved that I’ve been able to play a whole season.’’
Ticking boxes physically is one thing, but the emotional disappointment of missing World Cup selection by a whisker has presented a different challenge. Mannix has treasured the support she received from the Vixens, while determined to reciprocate with those who were chosen in Lisa Alexander’s 12.
“I won’t lie, I was extremely, extremely, disappointed - absolutely shattered that I wasn’t able to make the cut for that team and it did hurt a lot, and it’s hard because you do need the time to sit back and look at it and think about it, but then next day you’re back in Vixens’ training,’’ says Mannix.
Still, that - along with the fact there was an SSN match to be played the next weekend - helped Mannix come to terms with things, focus on the now and move on. Her next now will involve incumbent Diamond Sarah Klau at the other end.
Klau’s Swifts are yet to win an SSN final. A week ago, so were Mannix’s Vixens. Monkeys are off backs. Possibilities are exciting.
Written by Linda Pearce