If you had to pick one person, to take one shot for a million dollars, Sharelle McMahon would be the ‘go to’ player.
McMahon was one of Australia’s most successful and enduring netballers – and in the clutch, one of the most accurate in front of goal.
In an international career that spanned 14 years – playing for Australia 118 times, with 12 as captain, McMahon won two gold and two silver medals across four Commonwealth Games. She carried the flag for Australia at the Delhi Games, was a part of three Netball World Cup teams for two wins and she finished with 2,520 international goals at an average of just over 21 per Test.
This Thursday night, Sharelle McMahon will be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as an athlete member for the sport of netball.
McMahon was just sixteen when invited by Sport Australia Hall of Fame member Marg Caldow to join the Victorian Institute of Sport – requiring the decision to leave her family and hometown in country Victoria to head to the big smoke. It was a massive move for McMahon, who began playing netball at the age of seven in a team coached by her mother Olive in the town of Bamawm, near Echuca.
“It was a pretty big thing for a country kid. It was a massive decision to go. When Marg rang I was away on an athletics camp with Debbie Flintoff-King. Marg spoke to mum about it and when I got home I just said, ‘no thanks – I don’t think I’ll be doing that.’” McMahon recalls.
“I went to Rochie (Rochester) High… a tiny little high school, so transferring from there to Wesley (College) was a pretty big change.”
“The whole thing, everything that was connected to it, was just a huge thing to do – very scary. But my parents, without pushing me, said why not give it a go and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Take the opportunity when it’s there.”
“I went home a lot because I was very home sick and it was a tough two years particularly in the VCE period. I got through it and it was probably the making of me because it was very tough for those couple of years,” she reflected.
McMahon progressed quickly through Victorian junior netball ranks. She gained selection in the Melbourne Phoenix team in the newly created national netball league and the Australian Under 21 side in 1996. Two years later she was playing for Australia.
McMahon made her debut for the Australian Diamonds in 1998 and was the youngest member of the team that won the netball gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
“When I first made the team I couldn’t believe it. When I was named in the squad it was amazing and I was at selection camp with my absolute heroes,” McMahon said.
Not only did McMahon find herself in the team for the Commonwealth Games, but on court making a major contribution as Australia eclipsed arch rivals New Zealand to win the first ever netball gold at the Games.
“I played a lot of the game and it wasn’t something I was expecting being so young. I was just ready to learn and thought it would be a great experience and I found myself on the court in the final.”
From there McMahon’s career continued on its rocket-like trajectory.
Most famously she took the final shot in the dying seconds of the gripping 1999 World Netball Cup final, capturing the title for the Diamonds in a heart-stopper against New Zealand.
It wasn’t the first or last time that McMahon displayed nerves of steel – at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Australia won in double extra time courtesy of McMahon’s sharp shooting.
“For me, even in those moments like in ’99 I didn’t really have much time to reflect on things. In Manchester I had time to reflect – as the sweat was being wiped off the floor the umpire called time so I had time to realise that the next shot was so important. It’s the work that you’ve done in the lead up that gave me confidence. It was about concentrating on what I needed to do to get that shot away and it was as simple as that.”
“I tell my defenders all the time, they can take a hundred intercepts but if we’re not getting the goals in we’re not winning the game. But that’s the truth in netball – only two people can shoot the goals so the pressure’s definitely there – so if you decide to take that goal shooter or goal attack position you need to put those goals in. That’s the responsibility you take when you choose to take those positions.”
She was a fixture in the goal circle for Melbourne Phoenix for 11 seasons, including four as captain. She also led the Melbourne Vixens from their inaugural season in 2008, leading the team to their first championship win in 2009.
McMahon ruptured her Achilles tendon in an ANZ Championship game in 2011, forcing her withdrawal from the 2011 Netball World Cup. Considering her future she briefly returned to the court before taking time off for the birth of son Xavier in 2012. She returned for one more season before retirement in 2013.
Since learning of her induction, McMahon has taken time to reflect on becoming just the sixth netballer to enter the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t believe it really, I was so shocked. I did a little bit of research into the netballers in particular who were in the Hall of Fame and when I saw the company I’m keeping I was even more shocked.”
McMahon is a still a fixture courtside as a commentator and mentor and is thrilled with the current state of netball as it enters a whole new chapter with the new national league.
“Part of me thinks wouldn’t it be great if I was twenty years younger. It’s just joy and pride – there’s a lot of pride. It’s been a long journey and we’re still on that journey of course, but I think particularly in the last five years we’ve taken that step that we’ve always believed we could take. We’ve always believed in the product and how amazing it is – so it’s great to see we’ve taken the next step,” McMahon says.
“I’m loving continuing to play a small part in that – it’s really nice.”
Sharelle McMahon will be inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s night of nights – the sold out 32nd Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner, held at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne on Thursday 13th October – presented by Etihad Airways.
Established in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
2016 will mark the 32nd edition of this event, with eight Australian sporting icons, from on and off the field, to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In addition to the eight inductees one current Member will be elevated to Legend status, becoming the official 38th Legend of Australian Sport.