England netball sharpshooter Eleanor Cardwell is thrilled to be back home – reunited with her Manchester Thunder team-mates and living in her native Blackpool.
READ MORE: Blackpool's Cardwell helps England to Test glory
Having helped the new-look England side to an outstanding Test series win in South Africa, Cardwell was straight back into training last week as Thunder prepare to defend their Netball Superleague title in 2020.
It has been an outstanding year for the 25-year-old from Bispham, who played a key role as Thunder were crowned champions in her first season back and then regained her England starting place for the 2-1 series win over the South Africans in Cape Town.
It marked a triumphant start to a new England era, winning their first competitive series under head coach Jess Thirlby, who replaced Tracey Neville after England finished third in this summer’s World Cup.
It was Neville who converted Cardwell from a defensive player to a goal shooter and the England attacking ace spoke to The Gazette on her return home last week.
“I absolutely loved it in South Africa,” she said.
“It was so much fun and a great experience, with a new coach, new people and a very different team.
“I hadn’t started a game for England for a while and I wasn’t expecting to, so to hear that I was starting was amazing.
“To stay on court for the whole of the first Test, including extra-time, made me very proud. And it was exciting for the team to push on and get another win in the second game. It really showed the strength in the team and on the bench.
“Jess has brought in a different strategy. It does feel like a brand new team and all the girls are great.”
England’s rivalry with South Africa will be renewed in the Vitality Nations Cup at London’s Olympic Park next month, when the hosts will also face Jamaica and New Zealand.
Cardwell is not guaranteed selection, despite her Cape Town heroics.
She explained: “We have trials on December 20, so I’ll keep training hard and try to keep my place.
“There’s a lot of competition in every position, and in my position, there’s the added pressure of scoring the goals.”
Cardwell first joined Thunder in 2012, then spread her wings in 2017 to spend two years with the new Severn Stars club.
She explains: “It was a new Superleague franchise in Worcester, and there was the opportunity to play a leading part and help the team to get established.
“But I was still living in Manchester while I was playing for the Stars, so after a couple of years I thought, ‘Enough of the travel.’ I’m back with my friends now at Thunder and we’re all trying to push on.”
Eleanor is also back living on the Fylde coast but has never lost touch with her Blackpool roots.
“I started playing netball in primary school at St Bernardette’s and carried on at St Mary’s High,” she recalls.
“I first got involved at England level when I was in year 10 and then went to the European Championships with the Under-17s.
“I played for Blackpool Netball Club and have stayed in touch with them.
“One of my coaches there, Gabrielle Towell, is now assistant coach at Thunder.
“I’ve kept in touch with my PE teachers from school, Kay Buckley and Sarah Porter, and I presented awards for the Fylde Netball League. It’s good to keep in touch. “
All her friends on the Fylde netball scene enjoy hearing about Eleanor’s successes in the sport – and they have a feeling there could be plenty more.