The day the world title rested in Shelley’s sure hands

O'Donnell_1997_Sporting PixShelley O’Donnell still gets emotional whenever she watches the last few seconds of Australia’s memorable triumph in the 1999 World Championship final against New Zealand.

While Sharelle McMahon etched her name into Australian sporting folklore by shooting the winning goal, it was O’Donnell, pictured left, who made sure the ball got into the safe hands of the star shooter.

The 42-41 victory was Australia’s eighth world championship title and the third of O’Donnell’s stellar career.

“My memories are so vivid,” O’Donnell said of the famous final in Christchurch, rated by many as one of the most memorable games of international netball ever played.

“It’s still amazing. Whenever I watch the last couple of minutes of that match, it does feel like yesterday.”

When O’Donnell speaks to young netballers about the match and shows them the vision of the final 30 seconds, where Liz Ellis grabs an incredible rebound and the ball eventually lands in her hands, she tries to recreate the atmosphere inside the stadium that night by turning the volume up to maximum levels.

“I tell them that it was nothing compared to being there because the whole stadium was erupting. It was an amazing atmosphere,” O’Donnell, who was vice-captain of that ’99 team, said.

“I did slip over at the end and almost lost it for us, but I always say that I tried to make it more exciting.

“It was great teamwork that resulted in the goal. I think the ball came down the court pretty much through everyone’s hands but we still didn’t panic. We all had the calmness to work it down in the most effective way.

“When I fell and the ball did come out my hands and I knew I couldn’t pick it up, we didn’t panic. Carissa (Tombs) came along and picked it up and we got on with it.

scan0008“When Sharelle did pass it back out to me and I think I yelled at her `just put it up’ because we knew the seconds were ticking down; I don’t think we realised it was going to be on pretty much the final second that the ball went through.”

The star wing attack also has vivid memories of the feeling in Australia’s three-quarter time huddle trailing New Zealand by six goals.

“We didn’t drop our heads. In fact, we were quite fired up because, for four or five of us, it was going to be our last match for Australia,” O’Donnell said.

“We were written off; they were the favorites and I think that fired us up as well, to show them that we were far from a spent force.

“For that to be the memory of your last quarter for Australia was pretty amazing.”

O’Donnell retired from international netball after the 1999 World Championships having played 80 Tests for Australia over a 10-year career.

While she’s happy for McMahon to have her place in the spotlight for securing Australia’s famous 1999 world title, O’Donnell joked she often reminds the star goal shooter about sharing the glory with those who got her the ball.

“Everyone remembers Liz’s rebound and the final goal by Sharelle but forget what happened in the middle,” O’Donnell said.

“They’re quite big on goal assists these days and I’m proud to say that I got a crucial goal assist in the Grand Final of a World Championship.”

Every fortnight leading into this year’s Netball World Cup we’ll feature a story from one of Australia’s past campaigns. Stay tuned to netball.com.au for the next installment.