While a mercifully injury-free 2019 was not without its disappointments for Emily Mannix, a fine season highlighted in a team sense by her first Super Netball finals victory has also earned the 25-year-old defender the Sharelle McMahon Medal as the Melbourne Vixens’ MVP.
In a hotly-contested vote count at Southbank on Thursday night, Mannix polled 47 votes to pip captain and last year's runner-up Kate Moloney (46) and 2017/18 winner Lizzie Watson (45) for the club’s highest individual honour.
Mannix played all 16 games for the third-placed Vixens, with her 45 interceptions bettered only by internationals Karla Pretorius (Lightning) and Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds), and augmented by 61 deflections and 14 rebounds.
The popular Vixen was recruited after the 2014 premiership-winning season, with coach Simone McKinnis recalling her early impressions of a rangy 20-year-old product of the Netball Victoria junior pathway who was highly competitive and “willing to come out and have a go at balls”.
The youngster from the Bellarine Peninsula had come highly recommended by her school coach at Geelong Grammar, long-time Vixens’ assistant Di Honey, having also impressed during her time with Bupa VNL club City West Falcons.
“I just thought there was a lot there to like, a lot there to work with,’’ says McKinnis, who recruited another Falcon, Chloe Watson, at the same time. “We were a bit overloaded in defence because we wanted them both, but I thought there was a lot that could come from Emily and Chloe being involved early.’’
Mannix had to bide her time, initially, behind established circle duo Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor, but that confidence-related willingness to hunt for intercepts is what McKinnis describes as “an element of her game that’s really grown, and especially in the last half of this season’’.
It helped that there was no repeat of the debilitating concussion suffered early in 2018, nor the broken finger that came later that year, with McKinnis believing the next step for Mannix will be to build on another uninterrupted pre-season leading into 2020.
“I think she made some really good progress, some really good steps forward in her attack on the ball, even though she had a little quiet patch there earlier in the year,’’ McKinnis says. “Especially coming out of the World Cup she just really went for it, and got some great ball for us.
“She’s always been very coachable. Always wanting to improve. She always wants to learn, just listens, asks and really tries to implement that.
“She's down-to-earth; there’s no fuss and bother about her. Just very team-orientated, wants the best for her team and her teammates, and always good for a laugh as well.''
Along with the peaks, there was the trough of oh-so-narrowly missing Netball World Cup selection for Liverpool in July, but Mannix responded with great character and determination and was this week selected in the Australian Development Squad for matches against England and New Zealand A.
“It’s all still there,'' says McKinnis. "But it's part and parcel of being at the elite level that sometimes it can be up and down and there's disappointments and elation and everything in between. So it's being able to handle that; that resilience to come back stronger, more determined.
“Em was always just about Vixens, and needing to do the job for Vixens, and that’s what she focused on and she came through that with some of her strongest performances, and that does show her character.’’
McKinnis also acknowledged the"signature" consistency of second and third placegetters Moloney and Watson, while nominating the retiring Renae Ingles for the Coaches’ Award that she jokes the players “fight over’’. Yes, of course they do.
“Renae is so team-focused, just the consummate professional with what she does, and how she sets the standards,’’ McKinnis says.
“I just loved the opportunity to work with her; I hadn’t really coached her before, so it was great to get to know her, to get to know her as a player, and to see her enjoyment and just what it meant to her to be playing.
“It wasn’t about Diamonds, it wasn’t about any individual accolades, it was just about her enjoying playing and playing for the team and her teammates.’’