Mention to Kadie-Ann Dehaney that she has had court-time in 10 of the Melbourne Vixens’ first 13 rounds this season, her best strike rate yet, and the goal keeper’s surprised response is genuine.
“Really? I’ve played 10 games?’’ Dehaney exclaimed, before playfully thanking coach Simone McKinnis, and then quickly getting back to more serious talk.
“Well, I don’t keep track. I don’t know if any other players keep track of their games, but I just try to get on court and do my best at training, and just be the best player I can be to contribute to the wins and to the team.’’
Still, the minutes are adding up for the fourth-year defender, who saw action in just two games on debut in 2017 as a graduate of Jamaica’s World Youth Cup team, then 10 in 2018 (four of them when regular goal keeper Em Mannix was sidelined with a broken finger) and nine of 16 last season.
The introduction of rolling subs in tandem with the condensed nature of the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season may have contributed to the opportunities, while a calf injury that sidelined Mannix for two matches should also be factored in.
Yet there are clearly times when 192-centimetre Dehaney’s extra height and long-limbed reach can work to the Vixens’ advantage against certain opponents, even if Mannix joked during the Round 10 draw against the West Coast Fever that she was not actually injured but just preferred not to play against the Fever’s scoring machine, Jhaniele Fowler.
Which, when retold, prompted a laugh from Dehaney, who struggled to contain a rampant Fowler in the first half and, on a personal level, knows both the league’s leading scorer and another celebrated Jamaican spearhead, Romelda Aiken, better than most.
Not just from their time together with the Sunshine Girls, but Dehaney, Magpie Jodie-Ann Ward and Thunderbird Shamera Sterling lived and trained for almost nine weeks with Fowler in Perth during the COVID-compromised 2020 pre-season.
'KD' as she is known, had also spent her first two Australian Christmases with adopted Queenslander Aiken in Brisbane, where she admits that the warmer temperatures make for “my kind of weather, so I’m definitely enjoying it up here’’ during this extended stay ensconced in the SSN hub.
Curbing Fowler and Aiken on court, though, comes with the obvious challenges.
“I don’t like playing on them but it’s good I guess!’’ Dehaney said. “I’ve just got to get the job done, and they’re not gonna let me have the ball so I’ve got to fight for the ball. It’s really competitive.’’
With, it seems, no time for friendly chit chat. “They always try to talk to me but I don’t like to talk (during matches). I’m here, strictly business, not for fun and games!’’
Having moved into a bayside Melbourne apartment with Ward earlier this year, Dehaney is rooming with promoted training partner Allie Smith in Brisbane, and enjoying moving between apartments and teammates to mix up the conversations and personalities during all these months away.
Describing herself as “not a lover of the kitchen, if I’m honest, but I do my best” she has cooked Jamaican fish soup and a chicken curry for Smith, and belatedly re-enrolled for the third year of her geography and environmental studies via distance learning from Mico University College in Kingston.
Otherwise, it has been pretty much all about netball, and the 24-year-old credits the Vixens' intense training sessions with her ongoing development, improving footwork and growing confidence, as she builds connections with Mannix and Jo Weston as well as new defensive addition, Kate Eddy.
The extra match day experiences have helped, too, and she feels better equipped than last season to handle a quick summons from the bench. Is that a sign of maturity?
“Yeah, I would say that, and I’m more hungry for it, I feel, to get out on court.
“I’d rather be ready and not get put on than to be not ready and get put on the court. I think Simone definitely wants to change up some things depending on what she gets from the team on the day. So I feel like just to have that confidence on the bench gives her that trust in that to put us out there.
“The key is just to be always ready. Never think that you won’t play.’’
When she does, there is guaranteed feedback from her friends, netball fans and amateur would-be coaches in Jamaica, where the time difference means her elderly grandma Egenie Dennis is yet to see a game played live, but is sometimes provided with a highlights clip by Kadie-Ann’s sister, Keisha Brown.
Collectively more than individually, Dehaney is hoping there will be more to come for the Vixens over the coming month, as the minor premiers head into next weekend’s Major Semi-Final after meeting the Lightning in Sunday’s final round.
Not for the first time, McKinnis’ team has been the early-season pacesetter, but is yet to play in a Grand Final since its most recent flag, in the former trans-Tasman competition, in 2014.
“In my first year, yeah, we made it to this stage being on top of the ladder but we just couldn’t dot our i’s and cross the t’s,’’ Dehaney said.
“But this year I feel like it’s different. We have been bonding together. We’ve seen a lot of each other, which some days you’re like ‘look, give me some space’, but it’s been good.
“And then training is more specific, I feel like, and shorter, straight to the point, because in the early bit of the season we had the quicker turnarounds between games.
“We’re doing something as a team. We’re creating something this year, I feel like, but in the same breath we're just staying in the moment and not looking too far ahead.’’
Written by Linda Pearce