When elite athletes recall first dreaming about representing their country on the biggest stage most will nostalgically reflect on a special - and perhaps even transformational - period in their childhood.
Not Elle McDonald, who was 28 and stuck in isolation over 10,000 miles from the country of her birth when that ‘moment’ arrived.
Initially the only upside Elle could see after to testing positive for Covid-19 was that she could now absorb every moment of the 2022 Quad Series, on television, uninterrupted.
While watching the ‘Vitality Roses’ compete against the world’s best a thought began to formulate in her mind; “I wonder if they (selectors) know I’m from England and eligible!?”
Elle was born in Leigh, in Greater Manchester, but moved with her family to Australia when she was just eight and soon fell in love with her new sport in the ‘netball mad’ land down under.
Elle played for Adelaide Thunderbirds in Australia before joining English side Leeds Rhinos
Having spent two decades living there – and unsurprisingly developing a strong Aussie accent – you may think Elle would have not only developed a fondness for the ‘green and gold’ of her adopted nation, but potentially aspired to compete in those colours.
If so, you would be wrong.
“I remember my first international game that I went to, which was with a couple of friends from my school, and it was England vs Australia,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).
“I was covered head-to-toe in red and white, I had the face paint and everything, but Australia won very convincingly, so from then I've always been really happy to see England grow and grow.
“I also think back to the 2018 Commonwealth Games and how amazing it was to see them get that gold medal and finally take it to the Aussie Diamonds!”
That performance led to greater profile for elite netballers in the UK and a rise in participation among those at the grassroots level across the country.
It also inspired Elle, who after enjoying a successful career with Victorian Fury, Melbourne Vixens and Adelaide Thunderbirds, recently decided to make a full-time return to England and sign for Netball Super League side Leeds Rhinos.
Her decision to reach out to the Vitality Roses selectors pointed to a newfound belief, confidence and conviction.
“I started to think, ‘you know, maybe I am good enough’ whereas that wouldn't have probably come up in in my mind previously,” she told the WSA.
“I felt like I was in a really good position going into my second Suncorp Super Netball season and thought, ‘why not put my hand up?’ I've got nothing to lose and it's definitely paid off so far.”
The versatile midcourter made her England bow in the Fast5 Netball World Series late last year.
Head coach Jess Thirlby then rewarded her strong showing with a first England international series call-up for the triple-header against Commonwealth silver medallists Jamaica.
“Walking into training camps and seeing these incredible athletes and the likes of Serena Guthrie (now retired former England captain), who came into a couple of our camps to share her experiences and the culture of the Roses, has been amazing,” she said.
“They're all players who I've watched growing up and really looked up to and now I’m training alongside them!
“To be here with the Roses is just incredible, it’s more than I could ever have imagined really and it's an opportunity I want to seize and take on.”
The three matches against Jamaica will serve as a valuable part of the team’s preparations for the 2023 Netball World Cup, which will take place in South Africa across July and August.
Despite finishing a disappointing fourth in their attempt to defend their Commonwealth crown at the Birmingham 2022 Games last summer England are still ranked third in the world.
They beat Jamaica and New Zealand, the respective Commonwealth silver and bronze medallists, late last year and Elle insists the team “absolutely” believe challenging for a first-ever World Cup title is possible later this year.
“We know what we're capable of as a group,” she states to the WSA.
“I don't think we're putting any limits on what we can do as a group and we really just want to be able to produce a netball that we know we can be proud of.”
Image from England Netball