The Melbourne Vixens will host the minor semi final at the State Netball and Hockey Centre next week. The last time the Vixens played there was the 2013 preliminary final - Sharelle McMahon's last game.
Sharelle McMahon remembers the game well. It would turn out to be her last.
Having suspected it might be, the Melbourne Vixens’ champion completed her warm-down with baby son Xavier on her hip, determined to look around, soak it all in.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that it was going to be my last match but there was kind of a feeling that perhaps it would be,’’ McMahon says. “So I remember making sure that I took the time to enjoy that.’’
That was six years ago, and, when recalling what was also the Melbourne Vixens’ previous fixture at the State Netball and Hockey Centre, the former great can still summon an accurate guesstimate of the losing preliminary final margin: four goals.
McMahon’s own tally? “Probably not many,’’ she laughs, recalling the physical and mental challenges of a farewell season in which she returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon and Xavier’s birth. “Oh, 14? It was 13? There you go’’.
Now the Vixens’ assistant coach, McMahon returns in a very different role for Sunday week’s knockout Suncorp Super Netball semi-final against either the Giants or Magpies.
The unavailability of both Melbourne and Margaret Court Arena, both hosting eSports competition that weekend, means that the soon-to-be-redeveloped stadium will be dusted off - and, perhaps, literally, will need to be - for elite national competition for the first time since that defeat against the Queensland Firebirds in the old ANZ Championship days.
In a playing sense, Tegan Philip (then Caldwell), is the only Vixen who remains one, although the likes of Geva Mentor and Madi Browne were also on court that night.
“It was disappointing because it was a final and the Firebirds won and it was Sharelle’s last game, and all of those things,’’ Philip says. “(We’re) hoping for a better result than last time we played there, that’s for sure.’’
While confident there will be no issues adjusting from the 9500-seat Melbourne Arena, Philip - now the club’s games record-holder and leading scorer - discussed the venue with several of her uninitiated teammates at recovery on Monday.
“It’s definitely different,’’ she says, of the 3000-capacity venue. “It is intimate, so you have a greater sense of the crowd being in that smaller space, but obviously there’s less of them, though.
“Clearly, it would be great to be able to pack out a bigger stadium, but the (State) Netball Centre does have some great memories and certainly a feeling of familiarity for the girls. It’s still our home and it’s where we train every week.’’
For McMahon, emotions are mixed, as her Achilles’ snapped on the same court in 2011. “So has it been a happy hunting ground for me? I’m not sure! It has, at times.
“It’s funny, because it obviously doesn’t fit as many people, so the overall sense of that scale’s probably not there, but it’s very loud, it’s still a very loud stadium, and a great atmosphere can be created, so that’s what we’ll be hoping for next week.’’
With the Vixens locked into third place ahead of their final round against the Magpies, club patron and coaching legend Joyce Brown is confident that consecutive losses to ladder leaders the Lightning and Swifts will not derail a 2019 campaign she believes can still deliver the club’s first championship since 2014.
And that return to Victorian netball’s spiritual home?
“They should feel good there because they’ve got used to the drips through the ceiling, and the slipperiness of the floor from the zoo dust,’’ quips Brown, much to Philip’s amusement. “They should feel spot-on. It’s their haven.’’
Tickets to the minor semi final at the State Netball and Hockey Centre will be on sale Monday (members) and Tuesday (general public). Details can be found on SuperNetball.com.au.
Written by Linda Pearce