Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Goodnight, Irene, our brilliant star

Greatest Silver Fern stands down but still hopes to play at club level and coach.

Irene van Dyk celebrates their gold medal against Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Irene van Dyk celebrates their gold medal against Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Irene van Dyk can't pinpoint the exact moment thoughts of retirement first entered her head. It was a slow creep that began to play on her mind more and more as the transtasman season wore on.

But when she walked out of Perth's Challenge Stadium on Monday night following the Pulse's loss to the Fever, van Dyk knew she would never wear the black dress again. The world's most celebrated netballer and widely regarded as the greatest Silver Fern was benched at halftime in the Pulse's final round match with just six goals to her name.

Van Dyk, who turns 42 this month, has been through slumps before, each time bouncing back to prove her detractors wrong. In Perth, however, she knew her time was up.

"Throughout the season I haven't been playing good netball and definitely not to an international standard, but I think the Fever game was the final nail in the coffin to be honest," said van Dyk.

"After each game [van Dyk's husband] Christie usually texts me and writes virtually a novel with feedback, but after the Fever game all he said was 'have a good flight home, I love you', so I think we both knew."

After discussing it with Christie and daughter Bianca, an emotional van Dyk informed Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu of her decision on Wednesday.

Taumaunu didn't have any hint the bombshell was coming, but she had too much respect for the shooting legend to try and talk her out of it. Instead, she sat and listened and made sure van Dyk had thought through her decision fully.

With two pinnacle events on the international netball calendar coming up in the next 12 months, including next month's Commonwealth Games, van Dyk said it was important for the Ferns to have continuity in the team and she no longer felt her form warranted selection.

"The reality after you've actually spoken the words out loud was quite hard for us. Christie and I were both in tears and Bianca was too - it was awful. But I know it is the right decision," said van Dyk.

Then came the agonising process of calling her Silver Ferns teammates and letting them know she wouldn't be joining them in Glasgow this year. Van Dyk breaks down as she explains how difficult it was to break the news to her "second family", many of whom she has played alongside in the Ferns team for nearly a decade.

"Ria [Maria Tutaia] really struggled - she said to me you were my first partner and I can't lose you. Lauz [Laura Langman] was pretty emotional too," said van Dyk.

"It's those types of friendships that I'll really miss. Because you know each other in and out and we've been playing together for so long, it does actually feel like a piece of your heart has been ripped out.

"Although I made the call, there's still this empty feeling."

Van Dyk still hopes to play in the ANZ Championship next year, and hopes to stay involved through coaching.

"I love it, it's part of my life and it will always be part of my life. I said to Christie I think I will have to go and find a club or something because I won't be able to sit still. I want to keep playing until the wheels literally fall off," she said.

"I still have a passion for the game - I haven't lost that. Although the lows can be so incredibly low, the highs make it all worthwhile."

Holy Moly! A remarkable career

• International career spanning 20 years; 1994-99 (South Africa) 2000-14 (NZ).

• Made her Silver Ferns debut v Australia in Newcastle.

• Most capped international player with 145 tests for NZ and 72 for South Africa.

• Has shot 4796 goals for the Silver Ferns from 5288 attempts for a 91 per cent shooting average.

• Halberg Award winner - Sportswoman of the Year 2003, Silver Ferns Team of the Year 2003 and 2003 Supreme Award for the Silver Ferns.

• Netball World Championship winner 2003 in Jamaica.

• Van Dyk was selected to lead the New Zealand team in the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.

• In the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours List, van Dyk was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to netball.

- NZ Herald

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