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In Remembrance: Tilly Hirst (nee Vercoe)

A prominent force during the 1960s, Silver Fern #37 Tilly Vercoe will be remembered as one of the great defenders of her era.

Alongside three of her four sisters (including her twin), Vercoe made up more that half of the much-vaunted Rotorua team which was a netball powerhouse during the 60s, going on to make the Silver Ferns for the first time in 1967 with the added honour of also being named vice-captain.

Tall for the time (five-feet, nine-inches) and without the latitude there is today of contesting the ball, Vercoe was lauded a very ‘clean’ defender and expert at deploying the full range of defensive strategies from the zone, to man-on-man and the straight hunting of the ball.

A player of rare talent, Vercoe was selected for the Rotorua senior team while still at school, giving outstanding service to the team from 1960-66 and 1968–72 and becoming a national champion with them on five occasions.

A highlight at the end of the National Netball Tournament for many years was the selection of the North and South Island teams. The inter-island clash was one not to be missed, the cream of New Zealand netball talent spread across both teams being one to savour for both participants and onlookers. Vercoe was selected in the North Island team on eight occasions.

A diligent and motivated trainer, the 24-year-old, who was predominantly a goal defence, embarked on an extraordinary international career which included a World Tournament title (what is now the Netball World Cup), the longest netball tour in history and, in a sign of the times, just 19 Test caps.

Vercoe had a stellar start to her international career when the Silver Ferns convincingly won the second edition of the World Tournament held in Perth in 1967.

On one of the rare occasions for the times, an international visit outside of World Tournament years took place in 1969 when Australia toured New Zealand. Vercoe played in both tests which produced a win apiece.

Vercoe was selected again for the 1971 World Tournament in Jamaica, the Silver Ferns setting sail on a remarkable build-up which took the team around the world.

Leaving New Zealand in October, the Silver Ferns eventually returned home in January after finishing runners-up to Australia in Jamaica, not surprisingly worn out by their build-up schedule which included stop-offs in Australia and Singapore for matches, before passing through Hong Kong, Athens, Rome and Amsterdam on the way to a month-long preparation in England followed by 10 days in Trinidad to acclimatise.

Vercoe retired from international play at the end of this tour.

“Netball meant everything to me, I was married to the game,” she said in a former interview with Netball NZ.

“I didn’t get married until I was 32. Up until then I wasn’t interested, I just wanted to play netball.’’

In 2018, Vercoe was inducted into the Rotorua Boys’ High School Hall of Fame – which includes those who attended her old school, Rotorua High – for her significant achievements in netball.

The much-loved Vercoe, who left a lasting imprint on netball, passed away early June at the age of 79.