Concussion is not an injury you hear often in netball. Having suffered a knock to the head in a pre-season friendly in February, Emily Mannix has travelled a challenging road back to full health.
The Vixens’ young defensive star remembers hitting the floor after an attempted intercept in that pre-season match against the Queensland Firebirds, but had no idea back then how long her recovery would take.
It initially cost Mannix her role as a training partner at the Diamonds’ camps ahead of the Commonwealth Games, then delayed her return to full Vixens’ training until just last week. But it was also more than that.
The effects needed such close monitoring by the club’s medical staff that there was a daily phone call to see how the Geelong-based Mannix was feeling, checking on symptoms that included headaches, fatigue and dizziness as well as some unusual feelings that felt a little like depression. An innocent fall had some nasty after-effects that, in the 24-year-old’s words, “rocked me a little bit’’.
“Just really strange things were happening to me, and it was the concussion, but at the time you sort of think ‘what’s happening to me? What’s going on?’,’’ recalls Mannix, who was not just unable to train, but to drive, and to even pencil in a return date.
“It’s a funny one. It’s not like a regular injury where you get a time frame. You know if you do your ankle it’s 6-8 weeks and you can sort of be doing your rehab and that sort of thing, and doing your exercise in that rehab time.
“But with concussion it’s a bit different, and it varies from person to person, female to male, so it was all about taking it day by day and really being honest with the doctors and physics about how I was feeling because that’s all you can really go off.’’
It was only on the April day the Commonwealth Games netball medals were decided that Mannix played a full practice match. And the thrice-capped Diamond remains typically relaxed about the fact she had been part of the travelling party as recently as the January Quad Series, only for former captain Laura Geitz to usurp her in the silver-winning Gold Coast 12.
“Look, it was great for Geitzy, and I could sort of see that coming,’’ Mannix smiles. “I felt like I did my job well in the team when I was required and when I was there with the Diamonds, and the coaches were really happy with how I was on and off the court. So it was bittersweet that I … obviously got pipped at the post a bit there.’'
The runner-up in the 2017 Sharelle McMahon Medal in her first full Vixens season has now set herself for the blockbuster that is “The Battle” against local Suncorp Super Netball rivals Collingwood on Saturday afternoon at Hisense Arena. Mannix is aware that Katie-Ann Dehaney is also ready if required, and grateful for the support received from Simone McKinnis and the wider Vixens family during what the coach acknowledges was a “difficult” time for the popular goal keeper.
Or should that also be goal defence? Might pre-season indications be about to signal something more?
“Well, you never know,’’ Mannix laughs. “You need to be versatile. I think Joey (Weston) does a great job out there and Chloe (Watson) can obviously go into the goal defence position. I think that’s going to be a real key; for us to be able to play multiple positions.
“(I will) definitely keep working on that and developing that position for me, because even going to Diamonds, that’s an appeal to the coaches and selectors that you can play more than one position.’’
And also, one with the added benefit of a reprieve from the roll-call of giant shooters to whom the 188-centimetre Mannix routinely concedes height. Then again, as she acknowledges, most of the goal attacks are “a lot shorter and a lot quicker than me!’’, so with that shift comes different challenges.
Caitlin Thwaites is the same height, though, and a genuine superstar with whom Mannix will renew acquaintances after the Vixens’ collectively held the Magpies to losing scores in both passionately-contested contests last year.
“Caitlin’s a fantastic player. She’s super-strong, she can move, she’s dynamic, she can get every goal in, pretty much, so something that we’ve got to look at in our set-ups and what we’re going to do to tackle that goaling unit,’’ says Mannix, while maintaining that her focus must be more on her own game - footwork and intimidation over the shot, for example - than her opponent’s.
Team-wise, too, the work to improve will continue, even if the Vixens’ record against Collingwood remains unblemished.
“Melbourne is the home of sport, so to have another netball team that is your rival is really cool and exciting,’’ Mannix says. “We all loved coming up against them in round one last year, there was such a hype about it, and we were just super-excited to get out there and get the job done.
“This year’s kind of the same, and we just want to get out there and play as a team and enjoy it. There’s a lot of focus on ‘The Battle’ and what it’s going to be, but what we will really focus on is the Vixens and what we’re about and how we can go out there and beat them.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.