SHARELLE McMahon’s journey from the small town of Bamawm to Australian netball legend has ended following her retirement yesterday.
No discussion about the greatest athletes to come from the central Victorian region isn’t complete without mention of McMahon, who carved out a stellar career with the Australian Diamonds.
From humble beginnings on the netball court at Lockington Primary School where she first played the game in which she would become a household name, the sharp-shooting McMahon represented Australia 118 times.
Only Liz Ellis with 122 has played more games for the Diamonds.
However, for all her success at international level, McMahon hasn’t forgotten her grassroots and is still very much a country girl at heart.
“I still feel a real connection to the area where I grew up,” McMahon told the Bendigo Advertiser yesterday.
“It was obviously a huge change for me after growing up and playing netball in the area and then moving to Melbourne as a 16-year-old.
“But I always feel the love from around the area, that’s for sure.
“I’ve obviously changed quite a bit from the 16-year-old who left to come to Melbourne, but in many ways I haven’t.
“I’m still a country girl at heart and I’ve got so many family and friends in the area and I love coming home.
“I’ve always appreciated the support and encouragement from the area.”
McMahon’s parents, John and Olive, still live in the same Bamawm house that she grew up in.
“My mum and nan had always played netball and I was always around the netball court when I was young,” McMahon said.
“The first time I played was at Lockington Primary School. From there it has been a fairly intense ride at times.
“When I was growing up and thinking about where I might take my netball, I dreamed of playing for Australia, but there’s no way I ever imagined netball would have the impact on my life that it has had.
“There’s no way I’d imagined that I’d captain Australia or play 118 Tests.
“If you’d told me that as a young girl growing up, I probably would have laughed.
“It has been a great journey and so many fantastic times.”
The 35-year-old’s glittering netball CV includes Commonwealth Games gold medals in 1998 and 2002 and world championship gold medals in 1999 and 2007.
She famously scored the last-second goal against New Zealand to clinch the 1999 world championship, while McMahon also ranks the double extra-time win against the Kiwis in the 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medal match among her highlights.
She captained Australia from 2008-11 and was the Diamonds’ MVP in 2002 and 2003, with her career highlighting it’s not the size of the town you come from – Bamawm has a population of just over 500 – but the size of your heart, skill and determination to succeed.
“I was lucky enough that just before I moved to Melbourne, the couple of years prior to that I was still into athletics as well,” said McMahon, who is a dual winner of the Bendigo Advertiser-WIN TV Sports Star of the Year in 1999 and 2000 and is also in the Sports Star Hall of Fame.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by (Olympic gold medallist) Debbie Flintoff-King for a period of time.
“I went up to the AIS with her for a while, which was a great experience and she taught me that she wasn’t a super woman, she was just a normal person who had a passion for athletics and a dream that she wanted to follow.
“She worked very hard towards doing it, and that was a good lesson for me to learn at that age, and is a good one for everyone.
“There is some luck along the way, but it really is all about finding that passion for something you love, working hard towards it and things can happen.”
She may have left the Bamawm area 20 years ago, but McMahon continues to inspire and motivate the young netballers from Lockington-Bamawm United in the Heathcote District Netball Association.
“Sharelle is extremely inspirational for the whole netball club. She’s very approachable and what she has done shows the kids that you can be part of a small community and still play in the top league,” LBU netball president Sandra Schroen said.
“She’s family friends with a lot of people here, so everyone knows her as Sharelle McMahon the person, not the famous Sharelle McMahon.”
As well as her achievements with the Diamonds, McMahon also enjoyed phenomenal success domestically, winning five premierships with the Melbourne Phoenix and one with the Melbourne Vixens, plus six club MVP awards.
But as much as she loves the game, netball is no longer McMahon’s No.1 priority following the birth of her first child, Xavier, in August last year.
“I have felt like my really strong desire and passion I have always had to put netball first and put everything into that was not there as it used to be and that, for me, was enough,” McMahon said.
However, McMahon – who had the honour of carrying the Australian flag at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi – won’t be lost to the sport.
“There’s no way I’ll ever not be involved in netball... it has been part of my life forever,” McMahon said.
“What exactly that is... I’m taking a moment to take a deep breath, but I’ll be talking with both Netball Victoria and Netball Australia about what involvement I’ll have.
“Hopefully, there could be some opportunities with commentary, and I’ve done some work with the Players Association that I am keen to grow.
“Bianca Chatfield and I have got a business called Pivot Performance where we work with school, sporting and corporate groups around personnel development, leadership, teamwork and all the lessons we’ve learned playing netball that translate really well into life outside of netball.
“Building that business with Bianca has been a passion of mine and I now feel that I’ve got more time to sink my teeth into that.
“Plus, I’ve got a baby who is not even one-year-old yet, so I’m looking forward to what happens next with that.”
And what are the chances of coming home to where it all started and playing a farewell game with Lockington-Bamawm United?
“I’ve certainly had the opportunity from a number of people to come and have a game at their local club,” McMahon said.
“I’ll wait and see if the call comes in... maybe.”