Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Mourners hear about the mischief and magic of Tania Dalton

As a hush fell over the QBE room at North Harbour Stadium while mourners awaited the service for Tania Dalton to begin, incongruous as it might sound, it brought to mind the former Silver Fern's sense of mischief.

All you could hear was the whir of the air conditioning working overtime to provide comfort - physical at least - to the hundreds upon hundreds of people packed into the function room on the hot afternoon, punctuated by quiet sobs. These types of sustained silences were never Dalton's strong suit.

Former Silver Fern Tania Dalton's casket during her large public service at QBE Stadium. Photo/Greg Bowker
Former Silver Fern Tania Dalton's casket during her large public service at QBE Stadium. Photo/Greg Bowker

One of her favourite tricks, according to her close friend Bernadine Oliver-Kerby, was in a quiet boardroom or assembly, to pull out her phone and call someone else in the room and watch while they sheepishly rummaged through their bag or scurried out of the room.

"You'd just hear her snorting with laughter. It was so inappropriate, but you could never get mad with her, she'd just give you this cheeky grin and it would make it all okay."

It was fitting then that Dalton's farewell celebration yesterday brought just as many guffaws and laugh out loud moments as it did tears and heavy sobs as tribute after tribute captured the netball star turned commentator's sense of fun, warmth, empathy and yes, naughtiness.

In many ways Dalton's personality mirrored the way she played the game - bold, daring and effortlessly classy.

The old game footage that played over the screen reminded the crowd gathered - many of whom may not have known Dalton as Silver Fern, but simply their mate Tarns - of just how clever she was.

New Zealand Silver Fern Casey Kopua arrives the service. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand Silver Fern Casey Kopua arrives the service. Photo / Greg Bowker
Students arrive to farewell former Silver Fern Tania Dalton. Photo / Greg Bowker
Students arrive to farewell former Silver Fern Tania Dalton. Photo / Greg Bowker

The 1.5m semicircle under the post was Dalton's playground. She had a brilliant knack of being able to wrong foot her opponent with a cheeky goosestep and find herself right under the goal.

Her former Silver Ferns teammate and occasional adversary at national league level, Bernice Mene, told of how Dalton would sometimes taunt her on the netball court - "I always manage to get under there Bernie, how did I get under there Bernie?" Mene recalled.

It wasn't just Dalton's former teammates who gathered to pay their respects to the woman they affectionately knew as "T-Bag". Dotted in various pocket around the large function room were players from all eras - from the Silver Ferns who took the court before her, to the current generation of stars - all leaning on one another for support as those in close team environments often do.

Dalton, second from right, with the Silver Ferns. Photo / File
Dalton, second from right, with the Silver Ferns. Photo / File

Then there was the next generation of players. The classrooms of several North Shore high schools would have been a little light on numbers this afternoon, as young netball players whom Dalton nurtured through the ranks of North Harbour netball turned out in force to honour their much-loved coach.

That sense of loss the netball community is feeling has been replicated through many other communities, with Dalton a well-known figure in basketball, surf lifesaving, touch, and rugby circles.

But it is a loss that will be felt keenest of all by her family, whom her close friend Helen Hall observed made Dalton the "happiest and best version of herself".

Tania Dalton 1971-2017.
Tania Dalton 1971-2017.

In an emotional final tribute, her three children Tayla, Charlie and Matt each stood before the crowded auditorium and spoke of how lucky they were to have a mum that set herself apart from the others in every way.

Her husband Duane spoke of the pain of losing his "wingman, soulmate and bestie", before Dalton's casket was carried out to her favourite table-dancing anthem Sweet Caroline to an awaiting hearse, for a lap of honour around the field of North Harbour Stadium.

Sky presenters Tania Dalton and Lavina Good. Photo / photosport.co.nz
Sky presenters Tania Dalton and Lavina Good. Photo / photosport.co.nz

The "victory lap" drew a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd - a final celebration of the woman who taught us to laugh at ourselves, to be generous with our time, to give back to the community, to treasure our family and loved ones.
And to never stop dancing on tables.

- NZ Herald

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