Straight shooter van Dyk knew it was time
It took seven simple words to convince Irene van Dyk that 20 years was enough.
The 41-year-old marvel and holder of every significant record and winner of every meaningful title her sport has to offer, announced her retirement from international netball yesterday. Van Dyk will still play for the Central Pulse next year but, at the highest level, she's done.
Yesterday was for tears, tributes and the flowers and boxes of chocolates that kept the couriers beating a steady path to the door of her Wellington home. But it was Monday night when van Dyk knew she needed to call it a day.
She'd shot six from seven for the Pulse and been benched at halftime by coach Robyn Broughton, as her team slumped to a seven-goal loss to the West Coast Fever. She half expected what she found once she turned her phone on.
"It was a shocking game and when I got [husband] Christie's text I was like 'oh, it has happened'," van Dyk explained.
"Christie [usually] writes novels about the game and especially my performance. He is very, very tactical, very technical and very straight up. Sometimes I'm like 'oh, do I really want to go home?'
"But he text me and he was like 'have a fantastic flight home, love you'. End of story and I was like 'ok'."
She and Christie had talked for some time about the appropriate time to retire. They'd dreamed of gold medals and fairy tales and worked harder and harder to delay the dying of the light.
But, after 72 tests for their native South Africa and 145 in Silver Ferns colours since 2000, the van Dyks decided Irene's time had come. That just left her with the task of telling Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu on Wednesday.
"Luckily she was amazing. She is such a phenomenal woman. One day, when I grow up, I want to be like her," said van Dyk, with trademark humour.
Taumaunu said she listened, supported the great goal shoot and thanked her for her contribution.
The two are happy to acknowledge their relationship goes beyond coach and player but Taumaunu, despite a desire to have van Dyk in her Commonwealth Games team in seven weeks' time, didn't try to talk her round.
Other conversations have been more difficult. No member of the Silver Ferns squad has ever played without van Dyk, including her longtime shooting partner Maria Tutaia, and aren't sure what to do now.
"When I spoke to Ria this morning she was like 'you were there for my first test, you're supposed to be there the whole way' and I was like 'I'm so sorry'," a crying van Dyk said between sobs.
"It's the girls, it is definitely the girls that makes it worth it. The thing is, we know one another's families and you actually become a family and that's going to be the hardest [thing about retirement]."
There had been no temptation to hang on for the Commonwealth Games. That would've been "unfair" and "selfish" and van Dyk won't be accused of that.
But it's hard not to escape the feeling that she'd still be a Silver Fern, had she played for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic this year. Despite the best will of everyone involved, her partnership at the Pulse with Donna Wilkins was a failure.
At the very least, van Dyk said goal shoots have to put up 25 attempts a game. She wasn't and, on that basis, didn't deserve to be a Silver Fern.
It's a brutal self-assessment, but van Dyk never commanded the world stage by kidding herself.
WHAT THEY SAID
Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu:
"She is someone I care about greatly and respect her decisions, so I agreed that it's something she should do.
"I wouldn't do that to I's. This is her decision."
Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander:
"I think she'll be remembered as one of the greatest players ever, really. You couldn't say anything less about her.
"I just imagined Irene would maybe hang on for a couple of more years. In any case she's made her decision, I applaud her for it. It's most likely one of the hardest things she's ever had to do."
Central Pulse captain Katrina Grant:
"She’s just the most contagious, uplifting person you’ll ever meet and there hasn’t been anyone so influential in netball worldwide.
"Since she came to the Pulse she’s become one of my best friends and I’d do anything for her. She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met."
The Dominion Post