Van Dyk back to boost Pulse's chances

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 11:05 01/03/2014

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For 11 years, Wellington's best netballer hopped on a plane and went and played elsewhere.

They were good years for Irene van Dyk too, winning a Halberg Award, world championship, Commonwealth Games crowns, national and trans-Tasman titles. If you were a Silver Ferns or Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic fan, they were good years for you as well.

Back in Wellington, though, the Capital Shakers, then Central Pulse lurched from one crisis to the next.

Van Dyk was still connected to the game here. Daughter Bianca played and it wasn't uncommon to see the two of them watching club and representative matches.

But that never triggered an urge in van Dyk to play for her hometown team or any guilt that it was Hamilton fans gorging themselves on the goal shooting ability of a woman who'll surely go down as netball's greatest player.

"Not really. I'm a very loyal person, so it didn't really feature. Ultimately you really want to build netball in New Zealand and I think most people are quite happy with that,"van Dyk, 41, said this week.

"People aren't very intrusive. They didn't grill me because I lived in Wellington and didn't play here. So they are very kind really."

If Noeline Taurua had carried on as Magic coach, then van Dyk would've kept commuting. She'd made a commitment to Taurua and intended to see it through.

Those circumstances changed and now, for the first time since the Shakers' 2002 season, van Dyk will play in Wellington in home colours. The reception she gets when she's announced on court, to play the Adelaide Thunderbirds at Te Rauparaha Arena on Monday night, is likely to be deafening.

"I can't wait. I'm so excited. It's going to be awesome."

But not as good as family life is, right now. Juggling motherhood and netball is an increasing challenge in this era.

The old custom had been that starting a family meant retiring too. Not only did van Dyk not do that, playing for the Magic meant she was also away every week.

"Normally people stop when their kids are little, to stay with their kids. But when they're little they kind of just need a parent to look after them and feed them and put them to bed, really," she said.

"Bianca's 15 and, honestly, this is the perfect time for me to be at home. The things we talk about and the whole thing of her growing up, it's just so vital and I'm so happy to be home."

Time will tell how playing for the Pulse turns out, netball-wise. Van Dyk is confident that the team is capable of doing "some serious damage" this season and the addition of her winning mentality and finals pedigree gives the Pulse their best chance yet of qualifying for the trans-Tasman Netball League playoffs.

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Success for the Pulse would also aid van Dyk's Silver Ferns aspirations. Since her debut for New Zealand in 2000, the former South African captain's name must've been the first on the team sheet at nearly every selection meeting.

Cathrine Latu is providing competition now, with van Dyk playing the full 60 minutes less often and sometimes not getting on court at all.

Van Dyk took great heart from the Silver Ferns' January tour, which earned them wins over Jamaica and England. She was disappointed not to play in the second of those games, but understood why coach Waimarama Taumaunu opted for Latu and Jodi Brown in the shooting circle, ahead of herself and Maria Tutaia.

Taumaunu was careful with her words afterwards, saying van Dyk and Latu had played similarly well on tour and that Brown had been picked on form.

All of which means there's a real contest between the four, as the team approach this year's Commonwealth Games.

"The competition between me and Cat, especially, is very healthy. She wants to dominate when she gets out there and I want to dominate when I get out there and there's no animosity between the two of us at all," said van Dyk.

"We just want to smash our opponents whichever way possible."

- The Dominion Post

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