Reaching the mountaintop is difficult but Birmingham 2022 has shown that staying there is much harder for England’s netballers.
Helen Housby provided the most iconic image of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast when she stunned hosts Australia to clinch England’s first crown.
Four years later in Birmingham, the hope was for a repeat, but not only did the Australians take their revenge in the semi-finals, world champions New Zealand then rubbed salt into the wounds by dominating the bronze-medal match 55-48. Housby, who grew up in Carlisle, had to depart midway through the second half and received treatment on her calf.
Coach Jess Thirlby, who took over from Tracey Neville in 2019, promised changes ahead of next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
She said: “It’s really sad. We’re going to feel a bit bruised for a while. I can’t fault the effort and the intent of the team.
“There will be some exciting changes over the next 12 months as we move towards Cape Town.
“I’m really hopeful for the future, I think we’re on the cusp of something great. It may not feel like it to everybody now but I think you’ve seen over the last couple of years and the last 12 months in particular, how exciting it is. We have just got to hold true and stay strong in that place and be prepared to sometimes fall short.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
The second quarter proved fatal to England’s hopes, a one-goal deficit extended to six. They threatened a comeback when they brought it back to four with four minutes remaining, but 20-year-old Grace Nweke ensured they could never get closer, making 44 of her 48 shots.
It marked the end for two of the old guard, local duo Stacey Francis-Beyman and Eboni Usoro-Brown, who are both retiring.
Usoro-Brown, whose daughter Savannah was in the passionate crowd, said: “To be part of the era that has transformed netball in the UK, part of a golden era in 2018 but even those before us who laid the foundations. To be here with packed-out stadiums, people cheering and chanting for England, young girls in the crowd who are wanting to be Roses, we’ve come on a huge journey and it’s just been a privilege to fly the flag, be the role models, be the ambassadors, to say you can do it, it is possible, we have the belief and we have a system in place to continue to further the sport.”
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