The team behind the team

9 months ago

Simone McKinnis may be the Vixens’ courtside General, but each of the lieutenants supporting the 2014 premiership coach plays an important role. McKinnis is flanked by her loyal assistant Di Honey, defensive specialist Joh Munro (nee Curran), and team manager Lisa Taylor.

Honey is the longest-serving, having graduated in 2014 from a season as the Vixens’ specialist midcourt mentor to become the right-hand woman for McKinnis, her long-time friend and former teammate.

So how would Honey describe her role?

Sounding board? Ideas supplier? Whipping girl?

“Yes, all of that!’’ she laughs. “Especially whipping girl when she gets frustrated!’’

More seriously, she adds: “How it works is I’m there to suggest things and Simone doesn’t just dismiss it, she’ll take everything on board. But she’s the head coach. So, it’s her call.

“She will always listen, but not necessarily act on it, and that’s what we’re there for - to give her ideas to maybe try this or try that, but at the end of the day it’s up to her.’’

Honey says one product of a shared history, much of it under the respected Norma Plummer, is that she and McKinnis share an instinctive understanding of what the other is thinking.

"Probably because we were coached by Plummer for so many years, we’ve got the same sort of philosophy on the game,’’ says Honey, who played 17 Tests, of McKinnis, who retired after her 63rd.

“I might be thinking something and she’ll say it, and vice-versa. We’re very much on the same page.’’

Yet common team ambitions do not extend to Honey aspiring to fill her friend’s shoes.

“I wouldn’t like to be the head coach; Simone’s got the headaches of all the other administrative stuff that goes on, managing the team and all that,’’ she says.

“I just enjoy being the assistant, I love it, and I suppose as the assistant you have a lot more people come up and confide in you. Luke Mackie, our former strength and conditioning coach used to call me ‘the hose’, because I put out the fires!

“Sometimes if I think I need to speak to Simone I will, but there’s things that might happen that she doesn’t need to know because she’s concentrating on the week ahead. People come to me for things they think I should be aware of, or they’re wondering whether to tell Simone. I’m a bit of a sounding board for the players, really, and sometimes for the staff.’’

The broader group share a keen sense of humour, with Honey a firm believer in the benefits of a good laugh.

“I think these days some of the coaches are too serious, and you’ve got to have fun.

“We do have a really good rapport with the players and we are quite close, but then on the other hand when we have to coach and be professional we can put that serious hat on as well.’’

Munro (Joh Curran), a foundation Vixen who moved to West Coast Fever before returning to the lair, has graduated from the secondary bench to the frontline this season. When the 31-year-old addresses the defenders during breaks, it allows McKinnis to float between the various groups before dealing with the collective.

Taylor, meanwhile, is in her fourth season in a managerial role that has been expanded to streamline operations generally in 2018. A typical Vixens’ road trip involves around 19 players, coaches and support staff; in the interests of maximising recovery time, last weekend’s journey to play the Sunshine Coast Lightning included a touring party of 22.

All of which is Taylor’s job, with logistics ranging from organising flights and accommodation to team lists, tickets, meals and pre-game snacks. She even carries a supply of spare socks - just in case.

“It’s just keeping it all together,’’ says Taylor, who navigates one mini bus alongside team analyst Jamie Bahnisch on road trips, while massage therapist Emily Athanasio drives the typically more raucous version carrying the coaches, and the likes of Kate Moloney and Liz Watson.

“We try and make it that Simone really doesn’t know a lot of what’s going on in the background,’’ says Taylor.

“So that everything just happens and she doesn’t have to concern herself with it. Her role is just to coach the team, and we do everything else and make sure that it all happens quietly around her.

“There are a lot of things in elite sport that coaches just don’t need to know about or be handling. Simone’s great; she does so much to help out, she’ll carry bags, as do the girls. Everyone participates, everybody - right down to the masseuse and the physio - does a little bit of everything when you’re travelling.

“There’s people doing a lot of things behind the scenes all the time. And we have a lot of fun, we have a lot of laughs, when we’re on the road.’’

So who’s the team joker?

“Probably Simone! She does keep us all entertained,'' says Taylor.

"We have a great time. She loves to make Di the brunt of her jokes, but they just bounce off each other very well.''

The TV cameras at the side of the court ensure there is little privacy, but Taylor confides that, amid all the necessary seriousness and professionalism that their jobs demand, "occasionally we do hide behind our folders and have a bit of a laugh''.

And perhaps indulge in just the tiniest bit of heat-of-the-moment bad language? “Oh, plenty! And more from Simone than anybody else. You could never mic her up - that’d be a bit scary! I think they’d have to spend a lot of time bleeping things out.’’

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

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