Gold medals and more yoghurt are foremost in the mind of England netball veteran Eboni Usoro-Brown as the host nation prepare to begin the defence of their Commonwealth Games title against Trinidad and Tobago in Birmingham on Friday.
Usoro-Brown, who was integral to her team’s dramatic final triumph over Australia on the Gold Coast in 2018, will be cheered from the stands at the NEC by her daughter Savannah, who celebrates her second birthday in August.
The Solihull-born 34-year-old took an enforced but much-needed break from the sport in 2020 but said starting a family, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, has provided a welcome sense of perspective.
“Savannah is coming up to two in August and whether we win or lose or have a good or bad day, she just wants to know when she can play with mummy and have more cuddles and yoghurt,” Usoro-Brown told the PA news agency.
“She is a ray of sunshine and she ensures that on any given day I will always have a positive picture. I think it is important to join other role models in emphasising what is possible in terms of being both an athlete and a mother.”
Usoro-Brown is entering her fourth Commonwealth Games and feels a renewed focus on the remainder of her career, having returned from her hiatus to spend the majority of the early part of 2022 in Australia with the Queensland Firebirds.
“I was born in Solihull so it feels like my career has come full circle, being able to come back and play a Commonwealth Games in my home city,” added Usoro-Brown.
“When I had Savannah almost two years ago I didn’t even know if I would make it back into a Roses dress. After 2018 I very much needed a break from the sport and ironically I got an enforced one.
“After having Savannah I rediscovered a real love for the sport and couldn’t wait to get my trainers back on and give it a good crack. I was really determined to get back and reach a point where I could play in front of my daughter, friends and family.”
England begin their campaign in Group B, which includes New Zealand, who denied the Roses a place in the 2019 World Cup final in Liverpool, and went on to win the title with an equally thrilling one-goal win over Australia.
Usoro-Brown believes the drama of England’s historic win on the Gold Coast, when Helen Housby scored the winning goal in the final second, has led to a fundamental change to the perception of the Roses’ place in the global game.
“We changed the world order because an Australia versus New Zealand final had always seemed like a given,” she added. “We’ve shown we’re a real thorn in their sides and we’re not just there to make up the numbers.
“We knew it was going to come, even back in 2014 when we were on the end of a couple of narrow defeats. The expectations have shifted and we welcome them. We are looking at them as a positive because we know we are going out there to challenge and not just compete.”