It was a post-game dinner like no other. An Italian restaurant in Brisbane, last Sunday night. A roomful of Melbourne Vixens players and staff. Two of them harbouring a joint a secret known by very few.
It had been agreed that this was the occasion when Tegan Philip and Caitlin Thwaites would reveal to their teammates that both would be retiring at season’s end.
So, who would start?
Through some covert text messaging from around the table, it was determined between the roommates that whoever was served first would speak first. Over to you, Caity. Cue emotional announcement. Phew. Done.
Then, after the hugging and well-wishes, came Philip stood up.
“Everyone sat down and I was like ‘all right, my turn’, and everyone’s faces were like ‘what’s going on?’’’ recalls the club’s games and goals record-holder who, at 32, is almost two years younger than Thwaites.
"Then I said ‘I’m also retiring at the end of this season’ and it was quite funny, actually, seeing all their faces and the noises that were made; I think some of them were in a bit of shock.
“But it was quite a special moment to share with them and be able to tell them myself. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that one in a while.
"I have heard that it wasn’t really on people’s radar, but I just feel now’s a good time and I’m actually excited for life after netball.’’
Philip’s decision, after much consultation with husband Joshi, was made after long consideration about a month ago, and the dynamic shooter had advised family members back in Victoria before telling Head Coach, Simone McKinnis, late in the Suncorp Super Netball season.
Yet what seemed logical enough in theory was harder to articulate in practice.
“Actually sitting in the room with Simone face-to-face I was like ‘ok, this is the first time I’ve had to say it out loud in front of someone, so it definitely feels a bit more real’,’’ Philip says. “So we had a bit of a laugh about that."
“She was obviously quite happy and excited for me in the fact that I’ve made such a big decision. Simone’s coached me for her whole time at Vixens (since 2012) and in the Aussie Under 21s as well.
“So we’ve spent a fair bit of time together over the netball years and obviously she’s had quite a big impact in my career, so it was good to be able to sit there and tell her and chat about the experiences that we’ve had.’’
For Philip, nothing compares with 2014. It brought both Commonwealth Games gold in her Diamonds’ debut year and an ANZ Championship triumph with the Vixens crowned by the grand final MVP award. Top that? Thought not.
Overall, the former Tegan Caldwell describes her career as "just an amazing experience”, despite mixing the many highs with lows that included intermittent selection disappointments and a ruptured ACL that cost her the 2016 season.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster but certainly one that I’ve appreciated and been super-grateful for, so one that I’ll definitely cherish,’’ says Philip, the Vixens’ 2010 Rookie of the Year, Co-Vice Captain from 2017-19, and joint Runner Up in the 2015 Sharelle McMahon Medal.
Her body, including an ankle that - in another well-kept secret - regularly dislocates and has to be popped back into place, need a rest.
Indeed, a wish to be able to run around healthily in her post-playing life prompted a quick rebuff from the superbly athletic Philip to the AFLW-playing friend who mentioned the football draft was coming up. Thanks, but, well, she’ll pass.
There is much to look forward to. Mr and Mrs Philip will soon move into their newly-built home in Geelong, with a plan for parenthood to come. Tegan is about to finish her teaching degree, and start gradually with some CRT work, while intending to remain in netball in some capacity.
She also shares with Thwaites an interest in the athlete wellbeing space in which Netball Victoria provided her with a little taste in 2020.
Asked if hindsight has altered her view, Philip admits there are small things that could have done better, or differently, moreso, but prefers to look back through the positive lens of what she has achieved. Rightly, for a fabulous CV includes 130 goals in 14 Tests as well as an unsurpassed 131 games and 2729 goals for the Vixens - with surely a few more to come.
A second flag, six years after the first, would be the perfect ending for a player who will finish where she began.
“I’m super proud to say that I’ve only played at one club and been a Vixen since 2010,’’ she says, heading into her sixth finals series. “That’s something that’s super-special and actually quite rare these days."
"I feel like Vixens is part of my family, now, as well, and I’m part of their family, and that’s part of the environment that we’ve also wanted to create.’’
It is not quite the send-off surrounds she had imagined, having been in Queensland since July 19, and with attempts to gain the exemptions and make the arrangements needed to facilitate a late dash to Brisbane for Joshi proving all too hard.
Saturday’s appointment with the Lightning is on the Sunshine Coast, and the fact the Minor Premiers will not play a final at Melbourne Arena will deny one of its favourite netball daughters a chance to say a personal farewell. If there’s a recent disappointment, that is it.
“I would have loved to have played any games this year back at home, but certainly one final one to have all of the Vixens supporters there, all of my family and friends, that definitely would have been super-special,’’ says Philip.
“But the year 2020 won’t allow that and I think that just sums up the year and the way that things have gone. We’re in a hub up in Queensland. Who would have ever thought that was gonna take place? And now playing in the finals series unfortunately without my family up here…’’
But another coveted finals series, nonetheless. One last, precious chance to add an exclamation mark to a brilliant career as a loyal Vixen.
So, having wondered how Tegan Philip (the netballer) would like to be remembered, as we laugh about her not being dead yet, the ever-sunny goal attack is as quick as her feet have always been.
“Just as the short, moving speedy goal attack that was out there and happy to give things a crack,’’ she says. “I would like to think that everyone saw me as hard working, but also just as someone that has a genuine care for my teammates, as well.’’
Written by Linda Pearce