Southby's story

8 months ago

Eloise Boyle (still known as Southby in netball circles) is such a fierce, natural competitor that after watching the Vixens’ narrow round three loss to the Firebirds the retired 34-Test goaler declared to long-time collaborator Sharelle McMahon that she wished she could play again.

Eloise Boyle (still known as Southby in netball circles) is such a fierce, natural competitor that after watching the Vixens’ narrow round three loss to the Firebirds the retired 34-Test goaler declared to long-time collaborator Sharelle McMahon that she wished she could play again.

“Nothing against our current crop, because they’re great,’’ laughs Southby, 41, who now job-shares the role of Vixens’ shooting coach with McMahon.

“But there are moments like that where I’ll be like ‘just give me Geitz’.

“It would be like playing on Lizzy Ellis, and I would have loved it, I would have loved the challenge and I would done anything to help my team win. I’m competitive no matter what I do.’’

That includes jumping on the trampoline with her children, and the mother of four juggles various roles, including a coaching position at Maribyrnong Sports Academy, her Vixens role, and counselling and mentoring through her own business Lifetopia.

The fact that Southby has more of the latter work than she can handle, given family demands that include 16-month-old toddler James, says much about the rightful importance being placed on providing off-court support for emerging athletes.

For those not in national squads, where education is part of the program, Southby helps to teach them that a sporting career can be over in a moment, so life must be about something more. Guidance is crucial, and Netball Victoria helps to provide it, through Boyle’s work with the Victorian Fury and junior state teams.

“It’s really important because parents see the other end; they see a lot of elite athletes getting into trouble with health issues, mental health issues, hit rock bottom and they’re probably like ‘oh my gosh, I don’t want that to happen to my child, or my teenager, young adult’,’’ Southby says.

“So it’s about having someone to mentor and assist them through life’s challenges and curve balls that you get thrown, because not everything’s going to go perfectly. Even with family support, it’s often good to speak to someone quite removed from that space to help them navigate different areas.

“And you can’t play til you’re 100, so at some point that’s going to end and you’re going to need to transition. It could be a very quick time in the sport or it could be a long time, but both have profound effects on people, no matter what they’ve achieved or what they haven’t achieved.’’

Southby managed plenty, including a 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medal and silver at the 2003 world championships. For the Melbourne Phoenix: 132 games, from 1997-2005, five premierships, four MVP awards and that famous partnership with McMahon.

Both were wonderful players, and Southby’s court-smarts, vision and timing perfectly complemented the incredible speed and athleticism of the dynamic “Shaz”. They are friends and partners, still.

“I was extremely lucky to have played with Sharelle; she was probably one of the best athletes the game’s every produced. Imagine being told you’re partnering with that. I mean, it’s pretty cool!

“She was phenomenal. I always tell the story that I had to learn to get the ball and pass it that quickly without looking because I knew she’d be at the post. (Norma) Plummer taught me that: ‘you’ve just got to get round quickly and give it, and she’ll be there. And I was like ‘OK!’.

“I did play with some amazing players in that particular Phoenix group who are lifelong friends,’’ Southby adds, nominating the likes of Susan Meaney, Bianca Chatfield, Natasha Chokljat and Liz Boniello.

“We’re always connected, and they’re friendships that will never die, really.’’

Some were Vixens, others were not, and Southby was forced into retirement by ankle issues before she had the chance to transition to the new trans-Tasman world. That, in turn, has since been superseded by Suncorp Super Netball.

Had she known the era that was coming, she quips: “I might have pushed through a few more operations to try have a go. But I’m happy where I’m at and with what netball has brought me - beyond playing the game it’s been phenomenal, too.’’

Elite goalers are always in high demand, and the 187-centimetre Southby was absolutely that, but she also jokes that with so many shooting giants in the game now, if she was playing today, it might be at wing attack.

“I was considered tall for my time - and now I’m coaching people on a stepladder!’’

But also admiring from up close the Vixens’ culture and the way the foundations of the Phoenix and Kestrels have been embraced and built upon by a tight-knit young group, many of whom have been teammates since their Victorian junior days.

“It’s a special thing that we have at the Vixens. Yeah, we’ve got a sprinkling of internationals, but the majority have come through the pathway here, they really do love each other, and they have such good friendships, and that really puts you in good stead in really tough situations.

“And they certainly look up to Simone so much and value everything she gives to them. They’ve wanted to play for her, and that’s been really lovely to see. These kids - I call them kids, but they’re young adults - are all going to keep developing in the next eight years, so I look forward to watching what can happen with this group.’’

By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.

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