Tracey Neville remembers her as the ‘skinny waif’ who drove hours from Cumbria for training – not any more, writes James Toney on the Gold Coast.
England’s netball coach rushed to embrace star shooter Helen Housby as she held her nerve – and etched her name in history – to secure the most improbable and glorious of gold medals at these Commonwealth Games.
England hadn’t played a major netball final since 1975 but edged out hosts Australia and silenced a partisan home crowd with their second buzzer beating victory in 24 hours.
These girls have certainly learned the art of leaving it late and making you sweat.
Jo Harten drained the last-gasp goal to beat Jamaica in the semi-finals and ice-cool Housby netted the decisive final second goal in the 52-51 victory.
It sparked scenes reminiscent of the women’s hockey team in Rio, as players rushed onto the court in wide-eyed disbelief, wrapping themselves in flags, rolling around the floor and crying tears of undiluted joy and relief.
“I don’t really have any words, it’s every shooter’s ambition to score the winning goal in the Commonwealth Games final,” said Housby.
“I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. This is the best day of my life and it’s the best day of all these girls lives. It’s just incredible, it means so much to this group.
“We’ve been trying for so long to break the curse of getting a bronze medal and I’m just so happy that we did it.
“It’s a blur. I just remember having the ball in my hands and then running away screaming. It was dramatic circumstances but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To score the winning goal in the final against Australia in the last second – every single box has been ticked for me.
“Being a shooter can be a lonely experience. You spend a lot of time doing your own training and shooting. You don’t really know how you’re going to react to those situations and that pressure because you don’t get it very often.
“It just couldn’t have gone any better for this team and I’m just so happy that I put the goal away.
“For all the little girls at home I want them to be inspired by this. We certainly didn’t have this kind of success to look up when we were growing up and hopefully that will be the catalyst for big things to come.”
The final was always close, as both teams went point for point, never building up more than a slender lead. It was deadlocked at half-time and deadlocked with a second remaining – until Housby’s heroics.
And it could be the start of things to come, with World Cup staged on home soil in Liverpool next year, an event England have also never won.
“We do need to back this up,” said Neville, whose brother Phil, England’s women’s football coach, has his own World Cup mission next year too.
“The actual gold medal was meant to be won at the World Cup next year. We have to show consistency now and prove this wasn’t just a bad day at the office for the world number one team.
“This was a dream as a player and I’m living it as a coach though these players eyes. It was a remarkable performance against the world champions, we knew we had to put out the most clinical performance of our lives.
“Gary’s wife just sent me a video. He was literally shouting at the tele as if he actually knows these players!
“I remember the treble in Barcelona when they put that goal in. I was on tour at the time and I was screaming in a room at 4am, so it’s nice they’ve done the same for me.”
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