England bade an emotional farewell to Eboni Usoro-Brown and Stacey Francis-Bayman after the experienced pair bowed out of international netball with a disappointing 55-48 defeat to New Zealand in the bronze medal play-off at the Commonwealth Games.
Usoro-Brown, 34, received a rousing reception when she took to the court in the dying seconds of a frustrating encounter in which the Silver Ferns, beaten by England in their final group game last week, gradually built on the one-point lead they had established at the end of the first quarter.
Afterwards Usuro-Brown, who finished with 117 caps for her country having made her debut against Malawi in 2008, expressed pride in the part she had played in transforming the perception of the sport in this country to one that now routinely attracts capacity crowds and column inches.
“We started this journey around 2005 when we were both young girls dreaming of playing for England, and this was always our hope and dream,” said Usuro-Brown, clasping a bouquet presented by her team-mates shortly after the final whistle.
“To be part of the era that has transformed netball in the UK, especially as part of the golden era in 2018 but even those before us who laid the foundations, and to be here today with packed-out stadiums and people chanting and cheering, we’ve been on a huge journey and it’s just been a privilege.
“We have been able to fly the flag and be role models and ambassadors and say to the young girls in the crowd out there who want to be Roses that you can do it, you can believe, and we have the systems in place to further develop the sport.”
England coach Jess Thirlby paid tribute to the retiring duo and intimated it is time for major changes going forward after a tournament in which her ageing team never quite managed to attain the levels that swept them past Australia and to their historic Gold Coast triumph in 2018.
“It’s really sad and we’re going to feel really bruised for a while,” Thirlby said. “I can’t fault the effort and intent of the team. Their relentless ability to keep going to the end for each other is something to be admired.
“I think we had a great balance coming into this tournament, and I’ve not been shy of exposing new players in the last couple of years. It is the end of an era for some, but I always think it’s important that you get the succession plan right and they learn from rubbing shoulders with each other.”
Thirlby paid tribute to Usoro-Brown and Francis-Bayman and in particular the way in which her sport worked to assist Usoro-Brown in her comeback following the birth of her one-year-old daughter Savannah, who was fully integrated within the squad’s training camp for the Games.
“Eboni and Stacey are outstanding role models on and off the court and I’m incredibly proud of how they’ve gone about their business both on and off the court over the last 20 years,” Thirlby added.
“Eboni is such a pioneer for women’s sport, but also for mums in sport and mums in netball. We’re really proud that we’ve embraced Eboni and her family in the support we’ve provided for her to find her way back not just to court but to the Commonwealth Games.
“It is unfortunate that we can’t send them home with medals around their necks but this tournament does not define their careers.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe