When Di Honey stepped aside after six years as Simone McKinnis’ loyal Melbourne Vixens assistant coach to take over at the Victorian Fury in the Deakin University Australian Netball League, it was with a clear view to strengthening and improving the synergies in the pathway.
Honey’s move was prompted by the elevation of her eldest daughter, Tayla, from training partner and occasional replacement player into the Vixens’ 10 following Khao Watts’ retirement at the end of 2018.
There is no suggestion that favourites were ever played, and Honey senior had not been involved in any Tayla-related decisions. Still, if that was one reality, then another is that perceptions also matter, and so the decision to explore other coaching roles would be in the best interests of all.
Di applied for the Fury Head Coach role and subsequently impressed the independent selection panel with her wealth of coaching experience and knowledge of the Vixens environment – imperative to the development of athletes within the program.
“Everyone knows I loved Vixens, I loved being the assistant and Simone and I just got on so well together and it just worked, and I had a really good rapport with everyone,’’ says Honey. “But I could see that it needed to happen for Tayla’s sake, and once I got my head around it, I’ve really enjoyed being a head coach at Fury.’’
Early days, yes, but the ANL champions in seven of the competition’s 11 years are unbeaten after four games, having added a winning double against the Southern Force in Adelaide to opening round victories at home against the Canberra Giants.
Honey’s own assistant is Eloise Southby, another former Melbourne Phoenix and Australian representative, who has worked as a specialist shooting coach with the Vixens in recent times. The idea is for the Fury to replicate the environment at the level above, to help with consistency and ease of transition in both directions.
“Our program is strongly aligned to how the Vixens program works, which is what Simone wanted, and it’s great having Eloise, because she’s been there as well,’’ says Honey.
“Everything we do, as far as structures, the way we train, review/recovery, values, it’s so similar to the Vixens. So the athletes realise that if you want to play at the next level, this is what it’s going to be like. So we’re really focused on that.’’
All that’s missing, unfortunately, is Tayla, who is sidelined after rupturing her Achilles during the pre-season. “I feel for Tayla, because she was flying before she actually did her injury, poor thing, and it was her first year with a contract,’’ says mum Di. “But she’s rehabbing well.’’
With the likes of Emma Ryde, captain Jacqui Newton and others, there is experience in what, nevertheless, is quite a youthful Fury team. Enthusiasm and depth are both apparent to Honey “so it’s really good for Victoria that there are so many young players that are knocking on the door.
“Obviously it’s important for the Vixens who are maybe not getting the court-time to be able to drop back and get four quarters with us, but it’s really good for players wanting to be exposed at that level, and you’ve got coaches having a look for new training partners or new contracts, so it gives them the opportunity to be seen by the SSN coaches, as well.
“I reckon it’s such an important program, because now that there’s no 21s nationals, they’ve got to have something for the kids who are too old for 19s. It’s a big gap, so we have to be careful that the pathway is still there.’’
Written by Linda Pearce