When Tayla Shannon walked into Hawks Netball Club more than 10 years ago as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, she was found out pretty quickly.
“We had fitness testing, and you look at me now, I’m still not very strong,” she recalls.
“My dad still talks about it, it was embarrassing. We did a fitness test where you had to do a chin-up. They were like, ‘OK Tay, it’s your turn’, and I went to do a chin-up and my elbows literally didn’t even bend.
“They were like, ‘Go’, and I was like, ‘I am’. If I did it now it would probably be the same result, to be honest.”
The veteran goal attack might still have toothpicks for arms, but that only serves to highlight how impressive her longevity at the top level in Victoria has been.
Tonight Shannon will walk onto the court for the 150th time in Hawks colours, having spent more than a decade representing the club across all three divisions in the Victorian Netball League.
Recently awarded life membership at the club, Shannon joined in 2011, having spent a couple of seasons at Peninsula Waves before re-trialling at Hawks (then known at Monash Uni) and earning a spot in the 19/Under team.
“Joh Curran was around. Lil O’Sullivan was there, Karyn Bailey. There were some really big names you would look up to. From an Under 19s perspective it felt like you were playing with the pros,” she says.
The following year Shannon had her first taste of success when, while still in the 19/Under team, she played a support role on the bench for Monash’s Division 1 premiership.
“Even though I didn’t actually play in that grand final for Div 1, I felt like I was part of the team. I still went out with them afterwards.”
Soon a full-time member of the Division 1 squad, by 2016 Shannon was elevated into the club’s Championship team, and in 2018 played in her first final – a semi-final that marked the club’s first Championship finals appearance since 2011.
“That was definitely one my most enjoyable seasons, when we made finals for the first time in Championship for a very long time,” she says.
“We lost the semi-final, but just the hype and excitement around getting back to that level again, it was pretty awesome.”
Shannon’s coaches will tell you that the quietly spoken club captain just goes about her business and gets the job done with minimal fuss. So much so that when she was called up in front of the playing group at training so she could be congratulated for her upcoming 150th, she thought she was being singled out for wearing non-club uniform.
“When Guy (head coach Guy Keane) called me up at training on Sunday I was like, ‘Am I in trouble?’, because I had the wrong jumper on. I was like, ‘Oh no I’m going to get exposed here’.”
Hawks Championship coach Jacqui Hansen said only those inside the club know just how valuable Shannon’s contribution to the club has been.
“Over the years Tay has gone from strength to strength, performing her favoured role of goal attack with consistency and with little fanfare,” Hansen says.
“Tay is simply a quiet performer, no fuss, and does the job, although she does give her coaches heart palpitations with her signature long feeds into the goal shooters at least once a game.”
Long-time former teammate Clare Pettyfor says Shannon remains one of the most dependable teammates she ever took the court with.
“Tay is such a great teammate. She’s the sort of player and person who’s so consistent with what she brings to the group and the team each week. You always know what you’re going to get from her and regardless of the opponent or situation she always shows up and executes her role,” Pettyfor says.
“She’s incredibly loyal and committed and we are super lucky to have had her in the Hawks colours for 150 games and hopefully plenty more.”
Two people hoping there are plenty more games are Shannon’s parents, Tim and Tania, who have barely missed a single one of those 150, and will be there tonight in full voice as the team takes on City West Falcons.
“I did my ankle a few years ago and I missed about eight games, and my dad came to every game even though I didn’t play,” Tayla laughs.
“I remember saying to him, ‘Dad you don’t need to come, I’m not playing, but he was like, ‘Nah nah, I like coming to watch’. Dad knows all the names of the girls in the other teams too, he knows more than me.”
Shannon took the opportunity to thank some key people at the club who’ve helped her along the way.
“A big one would be Jacqui – she gave me the opportunity when I was Under 19s to come up to Div 1, and then when I was Div 1 to come up to Championship. I guess she’s seen things in me that maybe other coaches haven’t and given me the chance to build on those things as well, which is why I’ve stayed so lon,g because I’ve been given those opportunities, just like I see some of our younger players getting now.”
“And (club president) Shane-o is an absolute legend. He’s helped out my brother, my family over the years. He’s a ripper.”
Tayla Shannon and the Hawks Championship team take on City West Falcons tonight at the State Netball Centre from 8.20pm.