By Paul Eddison in Birmingham
Helen Housby, hands over her mouth in disbelief, was the enduring image of the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast four years ago.
In five previous Games, Australia and New Zealand had contested every single netball final, with the Australian Diamonds having won three of them.
On home soil they were overwhelming favourites to do it again and duly reached the final. Team England and Housby, from Carlisle, joined them on that stage for the first time and took the match down to the wire, with the teams level at 51-51 with seconds remaining.
Jo Harten had the chance to win it for England but missed with Housby claiming the rebound. An obstruction gave her a final shot knowing that a gold medal was the reward if she made it.
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In a moment, she transformed into a different stratosphere of recognition, clinching the gold medal.
She recalled: “I’d say things changed overnight but it was probably instantaneously after the Commonwealth Games four years ago. On the court I gained a lot of confidence from that win and went back to my club team feeling like a bit of a different player, a bit more self-belief in what I could do on the court.
“Then off the court, it went a bit crazy, especially with Instagram and a lot of eyes on me that weren’t before and on England netball in general. It was really cool but a bit daunting at first in the way it all exploded after that. But I’ve embraced it and it’s been really fun to reach people.”
Housby returns to the big stage at Birmingham 2022, as Team England seek to back up that memorable success in Australia with another crown.
The intervening years have not been easy. The 27-year-old from Carlisle plies her club trade in Australia, and the Covid-19 pandemic has limited her opportunities to represent her country, with the exception of a home World Cup in Liverpool in 2019.
She explained: “It hasn’t been plain sailing. At club level we have won two Premierships but we’ve also had seasons we weren’t happy with at the Swifts in Sydney.
“With England, the World Cup in 2019, we were really excited to be on home soil but we were probably hoping for more than a bronze and that is one thing that we still want in our trophy cabinet, a World Cup gold.
“I think Covid has been a big challenge, for a couple of us girls like me and Jo, we’ve had a break from the England team for a long period of time just because we couldn’t get to the games or were still playing out in Australia in our domestic leagues.
“So there have been a lot of challenges but it's nice to hopefully be over most of them and to be back on home soil and playing in Birmingham.”
While she is now netball royalty thanks to her matchwinner in Gold Coast, Housby has not always been a single-sport specialist.
In fact growing up, she tried to play as many different sports as possible, from football to tennis, with some athletics and hockey thrown in as well.
Netball was where she thrived soonest, but for all her success, there have been a lot of sacrifices along the way.
She added: “Everyone sees the end result of the Commonwealth Games but they don’t see the hard moments and getting up at 6am while I was at Uni to go to England training, and trying to navigate being a young student and trying to work into a netball team.
“It’s a very hard place to be and not knowing if you could actually make a career out of what you are doing. So there was a lot going on but I’m glad I pushed through and got up and went to the training and did all the work I had to do.
“It’s obviously paid off, it’s been a crazy journey, now I live out in Sydney but it was a pretty good decision to go with netball and choose it as my career.
“I would say to anyone who wants to do the same, it is a sacrifice and you are going to have to miss a lot of things and you are going to have to put things on the back burner a little but it’s been worth it.”
It certainly has been worth it for Housby. Four years on from her magical moment, she has the chance to do it all over again.
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