England's journey to netball Commonwealth Games gold
By Sacha Shipway
Last Updated: 22/11/18 3:35pm
The Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year awards are in their 31st year and, on Thursday, England Netball could win Team of the Year.
In light of their nomination, Tamsin Greenway, Pamela Cookey and Serena Guthrie tell Sky Sports about the journey to Commonwealth Games gold and what winning the award would mean.
England Netball's nomination for Team of the Year comes as no surprise following the scenes of jubilation in April when the Roses secured a historic last-second win over Australia on the Gold Coast. The moment changed the face of the sport across the world and in England.
Brilliant England claim netball gold
England won their first major netball world title, beating Australia thanks to Helen Housby's last-second goal that won them Commonwealth Games gold.
It was the catalyst for a new world order, where England jumped to second in the world rankings, knocking New Zealand from the spot for the first time. It inspired a nation and over 130,000 women and girls to take up the sport or play it more often as a result. But, winning gold was years in the making.
Greenway earned 67 caps for England before international retirement in 2015. Since then she's become widely recognised as one of the best coaches in the sport after winning four back-to-back Superleague titles with Surrey Storm and then Wasps. She recalls a time when beating Australia seemed impossible...
"In my first cap we got beaten by 30 goals and it was Liz Ellis' 100th cap so it was a pretty spectacular fail. One of the best moments in my career was when we beat Australia.
"To actually turn around and win was really special. There was a hell of lot of belief in that team. There was Geva Mentor, Jade Clarke and Jo Harten coming through - there were those pockets of players that were then going on and doing great things."
The whitewash Test Series definitely was the most pivotal moment of my career.
Pamela Cookey on the 2013 series whitewash against Australia
Mentor, Clarke and Harten all went on to play pivotal roles in the gold-medal winning England side. For shooter Pamela Cookey, 114 caps and two Commonwealth Games bronze medals later, the mindset they could beat the diamonds made all the difference.
Cookey was part of the 2013 squad that beat Australia in every game of a three-match Test Series on home soil. It was the first time England beat the Diamonds for 30 years in a Test series and it earned them the Sunday Times Team of the Year award in 2013.
"The whitewash Test Series definitely was the most pivotal moment of my career," says Cookey. "The group of players and coaches in that era were the catalyst and made people think 'we can beat Australia and New Zealand consistently'. That built and built and built and epitomised the Commonwealth Games because they just went out and smashed it."
Serena Guthrie was one of the impact players on the Gold Coast, instrumental in the journey to the final. But four years earlier she was also part of the England side that lost out on a medal in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games following two agonising last-second losses.
"There's been a few key moments for me leading up to the gold medal - the 2014 Commonwealth Games campaign was so heartbreaking for all of us," says Guthrie.
"Losing by one and almost getting there, and being on the other side of it four years later - those two events go hand in hand for me in terms of my career and the learning that came out of it."
Cookey says the disappointment over the Glasgow results pushed the Roses to upend history.
"It was another fire in the belly for the squad to go out and win," says the former England captain. "Whether it was the same players or not, England Netball as a whole galvanised to progress."
Many attribute the Roses success to the full-time programme, which saw the England Netball athletes introduced to a centralised training system in 2016. However, Guthrie, Greenway and Cookey agree that the Australian and New Zealand leagues perhaps played a more vital role in the journey to gold.
"The addition of the ANZ and Super Netball League has been key in offering players like myself the opportunity to go out there, grow my game and play in a more professional set up," says Guthrie who is returning to the Superleague after a spell of playing in Australia and New Zealand, who are home to the best domestic leagues in the world.
"We need to be able to mix with that league and play with the best in order to beat the best. We've had a good mixture of that happening over the last four years and that's obviously helped us in the test matches and competing in the major events like the Commonwealth Games."
"You look back four to six years ago and we were nowhere near these teams and now all of sudden, you're not sure who's going to win because we've got a group of athletes who've stayed extremely dedicated to the training day-in, day-out for a number of years and now we're starting to see the results of that training. There's definitely an element of longevity that we're seeing at the moment."
For Cookey, it's the mixture between accessing the full-time programme, and playing domestically that has underpinned England's success.
"If you look at the Commonwealth Games squad, probably 85 per cent of them weren't in the full-time programme," she says. "But I do think having that funding to allow the players to make that choice is key.
"You have the ones that went to Australia, the ones that stayed behind here and were able to be part of the full-time programme and the ones that stayed in their Superleague teams and then just tapped into the England programme as and when that was required - that's what's been the success of it."
Greenway agrees that the journey to gold didn't start in 2016 when the full-time programme was announced - it arose long before then.
"You have to attribute the fact that a lot of those players that have started for England have spent five, or six years out playing in the Australian league," she says.
"We can't get away from that and the Aussies are well aware of that as well."
The professionalism and profile of the sport has also been a major factor in its development.
"Increasing the profile has helped more girls to get involved at those higher levels," says Cookey.
"Yes, it's not a professional sport here yet but as I've developed through my career, more and more funding has gone into it to allow you to do it full-time or be able to do that alongside your career, which helped me and helped a lot of the girls that are currently playing.
12 Red Roses: How England upset the world order
While some of the events in the Commonwealth Games might not carry the lustre of the Olympics, World or European Championships, the same cannot be said of the netball competition.
"As we progress into the professional era, it does become a sport where you can just play netball like a footballer can.
"Others have been going through the Superleague system here which has seen a massive increase in participation and standard based on coverage with Sky showing the week-in, week-out matches and people seeing it as something you can take seriously."
Guthrie looks at the development of the sport on a localised level as crucial to its growth since she joined Superleague side Team Bath at the age of 16.
"It's been really cool to see the organisation grow in terms of the Superleague and watching clubs become more independent with the introduction of franchises such as Wasps and Pulse," she says.
"It shows us how the competition is growing, not just how England Netball is growing."
They've created so much interest not just with people playing netball but those that enjoy sport. It captured everybody.
."Beating Australia, in Australia at the Commonwealth Games was history," adds Greenway. "The players, the team, the coach all need to be recognised for what they did because they have changed the outlook now of world netball.
"They've put a whole generation of netballers that look at that and think it's just normal to beat Australia in the Commonwealth Games.
"They've created so much interest not just with people playing netball but those that enjoy sport. It captured everybody. There were so many people talking about that game and it would be daylight robbery if they don't win it."
The England women's cricket team clinched the awards last year following their epic home World Cup victory at Lord's. For Guthrie, to be part of that history is what it's all about.
"To be in the mix with some of these athletes and teams is amazing because female sport is growing and it's a real privilege to be a part of that and also at the forefront of winning gold medals, paving the way not just for netball but for female sport in the country," she says.
"Whether we like it or not, we are the role models for that, with female team sports and it's great to be part of the movement. It would be the icing on the cake this year. The gold medal's the ultimate but to win an award would feel like somebody believes you deserve that recognition and deserve that award and it's something we'd absolutely love to win."
The Sky Sports Sportswomen show and Facebook page will build up to the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year until it's awards night on November 1.