Netball stalwart Clarke ready for fifth Commonwealth Games

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Netball - Netball World Cup - Third Place Play-Off - England v South Africa - M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool, Britain - July 21, 2019   England coach Tracey Neville with England's Jade Clarke after the match   REUTERS/Lee Smith
Clarke is England's most capped netballer of all-time

Jade Clarke credits her longevity to passion for netball – but her team-mates would say it’s down to her regular naps.

The Leeds Rhinos mid-courter has been capped an incredible 185 times by England, many coming as captain, and won Commonwealth gold in 2018.

The 38-year-old has been selected for her fifth Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this summer and is England’s most senior player in terms of appearances and age.

Having to keep up with younger team-mates is no mean task, so the Manchester native takes any chance to get the shuteye she needs to stay at the top of her game.

“The girls all say it’s down to lots of sleeping, lots of naps,” Clarke said. “But I just love playing any games really, I just love the game.

“I love to learn and we've got some amazing coaches that I've been learning from.

“Just from being young my mum has always taught me about taking every opportunity and knocking the door down and I'm just not finished yet, I really want to go for it.”

This summer, Team England, supported by National Lottery funding, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Clarke is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.

Having made her Games debut in 2006, she was part of the England side who won a first-ever netball gold at Gold Coast 2018.

And with her dream achieved, the Leeds Rhinos player thought about getting some well-deserved rest and retiring but is back for another Games.

The seeds of her push for Commonwealth gold were sown at home, when Manchester hosted in 2002, the last time England held the Games.

She added: “I remember going to watch the netball with my mum. Watching my idols, watching Olivia Murphy, watching Jess [Thirlby, England head coach] as well.

“Now it's awesome that they're on the coaching team with us and supporting through this journey, it's really cool.

“We've got quite a few Birmingham players, in particular, so it is going to be special for them to play at home.

“It felt so far off [in 2002], I was always striving to be the best but I always think whether you are selected or not that is in other people's hands you just never know if that's going to happen.

“So I have my dreams of being the best, but I am just very realistic that you've got no idea if it's ever going to happen.

“And you just take your training day by day and I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity that I have had and I’m just so excited to go to these Commonwealth Games.”

Despite being four years on from that Gold Coast triumph, Clarke and her teammates are still being asked to describe their emotions as the siren sounded and they became Commonwealth champions.

Helen Housby’s final-second goal saw England defeat hosts Australia 52-51, celebrations on the Gold Coast were slightly muted due to exhaustion from the gruelling tournament.

But once she and the team had caught up on their sleep, there was a welcome party waiting for them back home.

“It's years and years and years of hard work all building into that moment, it's really hard to describe, you are just in total business mode and then the whistle goes and it turns to pure joy,” Clarke remembered.

“It's even more because all your mates who you have worked so hard with are cheering for you at four o’clock in the morning. It was just so special.

“Even better than the party afterwards is getting home to England and realising how many people have supported us.

“Just so many stories of people waking up the neighbours at four in the morning, so that was really special, that was really nice to come home and speak to everyone that had been supporting us.”

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