Hall of famer McMahon lauds Vixens star for embracing challenge

Melbourne Vixens assistant coach Sharelle McMahon and star shooter Caitlin Thwaites.
Melbourne Vixens assistant coach Sharelle McMahon and star shooter Caitlin Thwaites.

Great players learn to adapt or even reinvent themselves.

And that is why Australian netball legend and Melbourne Vixens assistant coach Sharelle McMahon has so much admiration for Bendigo's Caitlin Thwaites and still rates her as one of Super Netball's undoubted premier players.

Thwaites has not just added an extra bow to her own game this season following a shift to goal attack, but an added dimension for the Vixens and their feared three-pronged shooting attack.

The results are clear, with the Vixens currently two and a half wins clear of their nearest rival (New South Wales Swifts) on the ladder with a stellar 9-1-1 record.

Following a win over Swifts on Tuesday night, the central Victorian pair - Thwaites, from Bendigo, and McMahon, who was born and raised in Bamawm - find themselves locked together, albeit just for a few days, on 227 games national league games apiece.

In a strange quirk of fate, Thwaites will move to equal fifth on the games played list after this Saturday's match against Collingwood Magpies, an honour she will share with another retired central Victorian, three-time premiership star Bec Bulley (nee Strachan), who played her earliest netball with Calivil United and Sandhurst.

A team-mate during the 2000s and now one of her coaches, McMahon has marvelled at Thwaites' brilliant season form.

"I'm super proud of Caitlin and I know there are a lot of people commenting on how well she is doing," she said.

"It cannot be underestimated how challenging it would be to move from a goal shooter at this stage of your career to running out of goal attack.

"She hasn't spent a lot of time out of goal attack during her career, so she really has had to learn a completely new position and learn new patterning.

"Not only that, it's a very different fitness you need to run in that position. So she has had to work extremely hard to get where she is.

"As the assistant coach with Vixens, I have obviously been working really closely with her through that role, and what I have loved is just her openness to take on a new challenge.

"I am sure there are others - given the same situation - that wouldn't approach it in the same way.

"I think Caitlin needs to be congratulated for what she has been able to do this year - she is having a huge impact on the Vixens and their form.

"There's no doubt her new role has added so much flexibility and variation. and that's impacting on the team as a whole."

It cannot be underestimated how challenging it would be to move from a goal shooter at this stage of your career to running out of goal attack.

Sharelle McMahon on Caitlin Thwaites

McMahon, widely regarded as Australia's greatest goal attack, paid credit to Thwaites on her preparation for the 2020 season - her 18th in the national league - which she acknowledged had been made tougher by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The girls did spend a lot of time apart during that early stage of pre-season, but they were still given a lot of support through the VIS and Vixens programs - but they did have to do it themselves," she said.

"That's a real challenge, to continue the desire to keep pushing yourself, but Caitlin and the entire group has actually done that as you can see out on the court.

"It's been a really challenging situation as obviously everyone in Victoria knows. In many ways we've had more severe lockdowns and different things to contend with - more than the other teams.

"If they can find a way to get through and win this championship, it will be an incredible achievement."

Catlin Thwaites in action against West Coast Fever. Picture: BARRY ALSOP/MELBOURNE VIXENS

Catlin Thwaites in action against West Coast Fever. Picture: BARRY ALSOP/MELBOURNE VIXENS

As for the hot topic in Super Netball circles, whether Thwaites should again make herself available for Diamonds selection, after retiring at the end of last year's Constellation Cup series?

McMahon, who represented Australia 118 times, including 12 as captain, said form would certainly not be an issue.

"That's not my place to say, but I certainly think she could still provide a lot to the Diamonds program," she said.

"Obviously that program has some decisions to make in terms of the direction they want to go and the future.

"I'm not a selector, but I think she would provide a huge amount of benefit to that program. But that's a decision for Caitlin, isn't it?

"There were obviously lots of things that helped her reach her decision (to retire).

"I heard her being asked about that after the (Swifts) game and she didn't put an emphatic 'no' on it, so we'll see I guess."

While it has been a year like no other for most sports, that's especially true for McMahon, who despite her coaching role, has remained back in Melbourne with family, while the Vixens continue to play out their season up north.

Sharelle McMahon at a Vixens training session earlier this year. Picture courtesy MELBOURNE VIXENS

Sharelle McMahon at a Vixens training session earlier this year. Picture courtesy MELBOURNE VIXENS

The Netball Australia hall of famer offered a glimpse as to how the situation unfolded and how it has worked for both her and the Vixens.

"When the (COVID) situation happened here in Melbourne, there were discussions that (the team) might only spend two to three to four weeks away. But when we went into further lockdown that brought further challenges with my husband still out working," McMahon said.

"With the team potentially being away 14 or 15 weeks and with a young family that just wasn't practical to go.

"I've had to stay home, but what my role has entailed has been giving feedback to the coaches and the athletes in different ways and forward scouting on the opposition we are coming up against in the next few games and putting together some footage.

"I had hoped to get up there at one stage, but now we are getting closer to the finals, I'm wondering if that's something I can do.

"There's obviously still the quarantine period I would have to contend with, but it's a bit up in the air at the moment."

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This story Hall of famer McMahon lauds Vixens star for embracing challenge first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.