Sport

Diamond cut from country

by
July 12, 2017

Liz Boniello won four premierships with the Melbourne Phoenix, also captaining the side for five years during her career.

Liz Boniello returned to Shepparton in 2005 to MC Melbourne Phoenix's clash with the Perth Orioles.

Diamond standard: Liz Boniello debuted for Australia in 1996, having started playing netball for St Brendan's as a junior.

Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame

Liz Boniello wore the goal attack bib during trials for the 1987 under-16 Victorian netball team.

The selectors stopped the game midway through and asked Boniello to swap from goal attack to goal defence, the position where she made her name during a remarkable netball career.

Shepparton’s greatest netball export, Boniello (nee Taverner) began playing the sport with St Brendan’s before joining Shepp Notre and spending most weekends playing in the Shepparton Netball Association.

Boniello is based in Melbourne with her husband and three children, but regularly returns to Shepparton to catch up with mother Marita.

Born and bred in the region, her days in the town ended after high school when she moved to the Australian Institute of Sport as a teenager.

She was not only training there for her netball potential, but had also represented Victoria in athletics since she was in primary school.

A talented high jumper, long jumper and triple jumper, Boniello could have followed the athletics route.

But once things became more serious, she said balancing the two was difficult.

‘‘I loved Little Athletics as well, but there came a time, particularly when I’d moved to the AIS after I finished Year 12 at Notre Dame, ’’ she said.

‘‘I was about 17 and trying to do both netball and athletics, but I probably needed the strength on the netball court, but I needed to be a lot finer and leaner for high jump.

‘‘At the end of the day I just had a lot more fun on the netball court with a good group of girls in a team sport.’’

The decision to move to netball proved fruitful for the talented defender.

While training with some of the best athletes in the country, she realised selection in the Australian side was a possibility.

With a 1995 World Championships-winning squad that included some of Australia’s highest capped players in Michelle Den Dekker, Simone McKinnis and Kathryn Harby-Williams, opportunities to wear the green and gold were limited.

‘‘It was really at a time when it was really difficult to get into the Australian team, so you had to wait for a retirement or an injury,’’ Boniello said.

‘‘When I first started there only used to be a team of 10 that was selected, so it was even harder to get in when these days there is a team of 12.

‘‘I suppose I was working towards it and getting closer to achieving it and playing well in the national team at the time in the Commonwealth Bank trophy.

‘‘Back then I was playing with the Melbourne Phoenix and I had great players around me, which makes a difference.

‘‘I had Simone McKinnis and played alongside her as well and then Janine Ilitch, so both of us made the Australian team together in the end.’’

Her debut came aged 24 in 1996 in Adelaide against New Zealand.

If the Silver Ferns did not know who the girl from country Victoria was before the match, they did after she starred in a player-of-the-match performance.

Overseas trips were a highlight of joining the Australian squad, despite being in an era when only a handful of international games were played each year.

But Boniello did not get an opportunity to play in a World Championships or Commonwealth Games.

She was interviewed for the vice-captain role in 1998 in the lead-up to the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

It was the first time netball had been included in the tournament and the Aussie team would go on to win the gold medal.

But Boniello was absent, having torn her left anterior cruciate ligament that year.

On her return a year later, she was forced to go to rehab again after injuring the ACL in her opposite knee.

‘‘I ended up getting back into the Aussie team about 12 months after coming back from my second reco and I was possibly not the same player that I had been. The fear at times was overwhelming of redoing it again,’’ she said.

‘‘That was a really challenging time, but to get back into the Aussie team when I did, I think I savoured those moments.’’

Boniello still achieved remarkable success in the domestic competition.

In an era where the Phoenix were a force in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, her four premierships rank as the main highlights in her career.

After being captain in 1999, she shared the role from 2000 to 2003 alongside Eloise Southby, who continues to be a close friend.

The 2002 defeat of Adelaide Thunderbirds has considerable significance as Boniello’s father Geoff died in the final weeks of the competition.

Overseas with the Australian netball squad in 2002, Boniello returned early after her father fell ill.

‘‘I flew home and he passed away a few weeks later and that was about five or six weeks prior to the grand final we played in, ’’ she said.

‘‘That was hard because obviously I was still grieving and I’d lost a lot of weight and just through the sadness and so that premiership — Dad loved watching me play — and that was a really important year.

The team went back-to-back in 2003, with Boniello achieving the ultimate success in the final game she played as the Phoenix against tasted glory, this time against the Sydney Swifts.

While she is not as heavily involved in netball these days, the brilliant defender found time to reflect on her journey at an event during the 2015 World Cup.

Each Australian player received a necklace to commemorate being a part of the national team, with the momento netball’s equivalent of the baggy green.

Boniello was the 115th player to wear the green and gold and her number is engraved on the necklace as well as the year she made her debut.

With her induction into the Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame, Boniello said it was a testament that anyone from the country could achieve great things.

‘‘For such a small community, the Goulburn Valley has done a tremendous effort in grooming so many athletes onto bigger and better things,’’ she said.

‘‘Just because we are from the country, it does not mean we are disadvantaged in any way, shape or form.’’

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