Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Tania Dalton - the life of a champion on and off the court

Tania Dalton of the Southern Sting and Jenny May Coffin of the Waikato/ BOP Magic in 2003. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Tania Dalton of the Southern Sting and Jenny May Coffin of the Waikato/ BOP Magic in 2003. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

It was Tania Dalton's magnetic character as much as her ability that made her the star she was on the New Zealand netball scene.

Whether it was on the court, coaching, broadcasting or in business, Dalton's joie de vivre was never far from the surface.

Dalton suffered an internal carotid artery aneurysm after collapsing while playing a social game of touch rugby on Thursday night.

Yesterday, Tania Dalton's family said her life support has been turned off and is that she is expected to "slip away when she is ready".

"Test results revealed that the internal aneurysm she experienced on Thursday night had resulted in massive blood loss and ultimately loss of oxygen to the brain for an extended period.

"The damage has now been accepted as irreversible and so the family had no choice but to allow nature to take its course.

Dalton had a rare talent. She possessed a speed, athleticism and agility not often seen in shooters of her height, making her difficult proposition to mark in the goal circle. She had a knack of being able to get the ball close to the post, using her footwork to shake defenders and create scoring opportunities. Her signature move - the goosestep along the baseline - matched her cheeky nature.

The 12-test Silver Fern was not a regular starter for the national side, sitting behind the likes of Irene van Dyk and Belinda Colling later in her career. But what elevated her above everyone else was her exuberance. The players all knew if Tarn was on tour, they'd have a good time. She was known among her friends for her love of Neil Diamond and dancing on tables - if Sweet Caroline came on, people would hastily rescue their glassware from the table.

In an international career spanned 10 years, Dalton's momentum was halted by several serious injuries and time away from the sport to have children. A mother of three, Dalton was one of the pioneers for combining motherhood with an elite netball career.

She made her debut against South Africa in 1996, and followed up with stints in the 2000, 2003, and 2006 teams. The highlight, as it was for many players of that era, was the Silver Ferns stunning win at the 2003 World Cup in Jamaica.

Dalton's talents shone on the domestic stage. She was a key member of the Northern Force franchise in the old National Bank Cup, before being recruited to play for Robyn Broughton's star-studded Southern Sting line-up in 2002, going on to help the team to three titles. There, Dalton's tactical appreciation of the game was evident, as she formed a brilliant shooting partnership with Donna Wilkins.

The pair were renowned for their clever interplay, as they worked for one another to set up the structure on attack.

Post-career, Dalton made a seamless switch to commentary box. She was not a refined broadcaster, but she brought a refreshing irreverence to Sky's netball coverage. When Dalton was in the commentary box it was like watching the netball with your mate alongside you on the couch.

Of one player, who appeared to be struggling during an injury time-out, Dalton exclaimed, "I thought she was going to vom!" Then there were her legendary sign-outs, wrapping up the broadcasts with such gems as, "That's it from the T-Bag and the Bernster."

Dalton was a popular and talented coach. Last year she guided Netball North Harbour's Under 15 A representative team to second in North Island champs, with her side losing to Auckland by one goal in the final. It was Harbour's best performance in years, having made the finals ahead of more fancied sides like Wellington and Hamilton.

Dalton took particular pride in her daughter Tayla being named in the tournament team at WA.

Many in Harbour netball hoped Dalton would work her way up the coaching age-grade ladder. She was described as a breath of fresh air on the coaching scene, prizing fitness and attitude ahead of the reputation and school.

She remained super-fit herself, playing social netball, basketball, touch, tennis, while busting out the odd marathon or harbour swim on a whim.

- NZ Herald

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