Captain retires at top of her game

2015 Constellation Cup Australia v New Zealand Melbourne Clare McMenimen

Written by Damian Stannard

A rarely seen blemish in Clare McMeniman’s ironclad constitution is what made her the perfect candidate to succeed champion defender Laura Geitz as Diamonds captain.

The Queenslander harassed her last on-court opponent in the final match of the Constellation Cup against the Silver Ferns in Invercargill.

Her departure was the final scene of a glorious, and unconventional, career, and a brief but influential stint as Australia’s captain.

McMeniman’s peers and coaches have repeatedly lauded her professionalism and bloody-minded competitiveness as part of her leadership makeup.

Although when it came down to accepting a dream invitation to lead her country, the defender’s self-doubt made her baulk.

“She said in some ways she didn’t think she was worthy,” said Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander of the captaincy offer which was endorsed by a unanimous vote from the squad.

“I told her ‘I think you are’, and your teammates do as well. Everything you see about her is high quality so I wasn’t concerned at all.”

 

20.10.2016 The Australian Diamonds Clare McMeniman celebrates after the Silver Ferns v Australia netball test match played at ILT Stadium in Invercargill. Mandatory Photo Credit ©Michael Bradley.

Team-first

The self-doubt to which Alexander referred is perhaps a natural by-product of her unparalleled selflessness.

Few players have given as much to their teams and sought so little.

In an era that has embraced statistical analysis, McMeniman does not care much for numbers.

She makes those around her sparkle as she takes sandpaper to her rival.

“If I was coming up against Clare, I always knew it would be a long, tough day,” said goal attack Natalie Medhurst who has played with and against the 31-year-old since their teens.

“Some like to build a lot of stats but Clare has an ability to shut you out and make your life hell.”

 

The setbacks

It could be argued Diamond no.163 should have been blooded much sooner than her 2014 debut against England.

She had been a leading figure in the Queensland Firebirds’ unbeaten 2011 premiership and a member of the Australian squad since 2008.

After a two-year hiatus she returned as a superior player than before yet still missed selection for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 World Cup.

Yet there was never any hint of frustration or disenchantment. And the 185cm tall stopper never gave up.

“She was the last one cut (for the World Cup)” Alexander said.

“That was hard. Selection’s never based on emotion, and Clare understood that.

“She made a lot of sacrifices to be in Newcastle for the training camp (as back-up for Julie Corletto).

“It was touch and go, but if Julie didn’t make it, it had to be Clare. She made the ultimate sacrifice.”

 

Two Clares

Medhurst sees some of herself in McMeniman.

From the opening centre pass to the final whistle there is not a smile from either of them.

The taught muscles in McMeniman’s neck are a sign of her intensity and she was the drill sergeant to the more nurturing leadership style of Geitz at the Firebirds.

But did you know she once appeared as Dolly Parton at an end of season celebration? Or that she enrolled in adult ballet classes in her late-twenties?

“Clare’s quirky, and sooo funny,” Medhurst said.

Alexander coached McMeniman in the under-21 national team and is often chided by her husband for perceived favouritism of the Darling Downs product.

“She could be a good Prime Minister,” the coach said.

“Clare speaks well, is articulate, respected and clever. She’s caring and understands the bigger picture.

“Working with her has been a joy.”

 

The end

McMeniman’s second and final retirement will leave a hole greater than what her 15 Test caps – 10 as captain – would suggest.

The non-negotiable values she inherited from Geitz have been upheld and the new skipper will know she has followed two of the best.

“It’s not about the number of games. She has put the team first, above her own wants, and stood out for that,” Medhurst said.

“It’s gonna be weird without her.”