Where does Irene re­ally rate?


Was Irene van Dyk the great­est net­baller ever, as some are claim­ing? The tall goal shoot’s re­tire­ment from the in­ter­na­tional arena has prompted var­i­ous as­sess­ments of her ca­reer, some ad­mit­tedly by people who would have no idea what went on in net­ball be­fore 2000.

Van Dyk cer­tainly has some great sta­tis­tics on her side. She played 72 tests for South Africa from 1994 till 1999, and an­other 145 for New Zealand from 2000 till 2014.

Her longevity has been in­cred­i­ble – imag­ine be­ing among the world’s best for 20 years.

Her shoot­ing ac­cu­racy has also been as­tound­ing. It’s true that van Dyk shoots al­most en­tirely from un­der the hoop, but still, to have a 91 per cent suc­cess rate over all those years de­fies be­lief.

( That said, it must be re­mem­bered that shoot­ers of pre­vi­ous eras played out­doors and had to cope with wind, cold, sun and rain.) Is she the best ever? Van Dyk didn’t

move par­tic­u­larly well, and left all the long-range shoot­ing to her goal at­tacks. She did have great hands and po­si­tional play, and re­lent­lessly put the ball through the hoop, which was her job.

Tracey Fear and Casey Kopua were bril­liant de­fend­ers and San­dra Edge was un­matched as a cen­tre.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to com­pare van Dyk with them be­cause the skills re­quired are so dif­fer­ent.

How­ever, van Dyk’s im­pact on the game at in­ter­na­tional level has been un­equalled.

She has been a pioneer and a won­der­ful advertisement for net­ball. It was New Zealand’s good for­tune she spent most of her in­ter­na­tional ca­reer play­ing for the Sil­ver Ferns.

The ques­tion of the best ever is to­tally sub­jec­tive.

Most cricket fol­low­ers nom­i­nate Don Brad­man as the great­est crick­eter of all time.

Yet Brad­man sel­dom bowled and al­most never kept wick­ets. Log­i­cally, there­fore, how could he rate ahead of all-rounders like Gary Sobers, Jac­ques Kal­lis, Ian Botham or even our own Richard Hadlee?

There is no par­tic­u­lar logic, but nearly ev­ery­one goes for Brad­man. He was so far ahead of ev­ery­one as a bats­man, and for so long, that his fig­ures defy be­lief. He was also a ruth­lessly suc­cess­ful cap­tain. He is un­chal­lenged as No 1. It’s the same with the de­bate over the great­est All Black.

Many opt for Jonah Lomu, though the big winger couldn’t re­ally kick, didn’t have great rugby vi­sion, had er­ratic de­fence and was not a great passer.

Be­cause of his size and speed, he could score breath­tak­ing tries.

But so could other wingers, such as Grant Batty, Bryan Wil­liams, Ron Jar­den and Jeff Wil­son.

De­spite his limited skills, Lomu had a mas­sive im­pact on rugby and his world­wide rep­u­ta­tion is un­ques­tion­able.

I’ve al­ways thought No 8 Zin­zan Brooke was the most skilled All Black I’ve seen. A pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion said the same of full­back Bob Scott.

In 2000, Colin Meads was voted New Zealand rugby player of the century. Mod­ern rugby fans might plump for Richie McCaw.

It’s only sub­jec­tive and not more than an in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sion point.

My feel­ing is that when people talk about the great­est player, they are fo­cus­ing on legacy and im­pact, which is where the likes of van Dyk, Brad­man and Lomu score so highly.


En­dur­ing great­ness: Irene van Dyk has been among the world’s best for 20 years.

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