Since making her Vitality Roses debut three years ago, Eleanor Cardwell has emerged as a valuable asset in the shooting circle for both club and country.
Under Jess Thirlby, Cardwell has already toured Oceania and travelled for the test series against South Africa in the last 12 months.
Add this to her Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final victory with Manchester Thunder and it has proven to be a productive 2019 for the goal shooter.
“It was my favourite sport at school”
Cardwell was born in Blackpool and, like many, began playing netball at primary school after encouragement from her mother.
Her love for netball quickly grew stronger and she began convincing others to take up the sport, something she has continued doing with her coaching at local netball clubs.
“I started playing netball when I was in year five and my mum basically made me go along to a school training session. I absolutely loved it,” she said.
“I made all my friends come and join and just got everyone into netball because it was my favourite sport at school.”
Her journey began solely at the defensive end of the court; an area many outside of the North West wouldn’t ordinarily associate her with.
All of her caps have come at either goal shooter or goal attack while her spell at Severn Stars and her second stint at Thunder have both featured her inside the shooting circle.
Starting out as a goal keeper, it was a conversation with a former Vitality Roses coach that saw her make the decision to switch positions.
“I was originally a goal keeper, goal defence or wing defence and played there up until about 2013/14, but I got asked by Tracey Neville to play as a goal shooter at a training session,” she explained.
“One of our shooters needed to go home and I had to fill in. Tracey [Neville] joked that I was now the new shooter for the team. I then got a phone call from Tracey the next morning saying that I was the new goal shooter/goal attack for Manchester Thunder.
“She said I was going to train at it and going to practice shooting so I could become a goal shooter. So, here I am today playing for England thanks to Tracey Neville.
“I wanted to be this powerful woman on the court”
Due to this switch, Cardwell referenced Neville as one of the biggest influences on her career alongside all the coaches she has worked with thus far.
Currently with Karen Greig at Thunder and Jess Thirlby with the Vitality Roses, Cardwell has had a plethora of coaches throughout her career that have left a lasting impression.
“I think everyone has been a pretty big influence on my career so far. Every single coach I’ve had whether it be Jess [Thirlby], Tracey [Neville], Karen [Grieg], Sam Bird, Gabrielle Towell, Gill Walker – there have been so many influences,” she said.
“Every single person who helps you out on court is being that influence on you and getting you to where you have been and where you are right now.”
Before her foray into the world of professional netball, Cardwell had influences closer to home.
“My biggest influences when I first started out is probably my mum and primary school teacher Mrs Dowling. They really got me into the sport and encouraged me to continue it and to join a club.
“I joined Blackpool Netball Club where I met Gabby Towell and Gill Walker, who really helped me become to player I am today.”
Her sporting idols transcended different sports, from netball to track and field, and included the likes of Kelly Holmes and Geva Mentor.
She has had the opportunity to play with the latter on several occasions. Of her 20 caps, four have been shared with her role model.
“Geva Mentor was someone who I modelled myself on as a goal keeper. I really wanted to be her. I really wanted to be this powerful woman on the court showing her dominance,” said Cardwell.
“Another role model I had when I was young and probably still now is Kelly Holmes. I was watching her being a powerful woman and winning her Olympic medals. It was pretty inspirational for me as a kid and I always used to talk about her. She’s just an incredible athlete.”
“My journey to this point has been pretty rocky”
Cardwell, who has been included in Manchester Thunder’s Vitality Netball Superleague squad for the 2020 season, has had a less than conventional journey to netball stardom since her early playing days at school.
Cardwell – a fully-fledged international and a VNSL champion – has experienced the pinnacle of netball. She also has understandings of some common setbacks players regularly face including selection and taking time away from the sport.
“My journey to this point has been pretty rocky. I started off at school and playing for a club before playing for Lancashire. I went to regional trials afterwards but didn’t get selected. I did, however, get put up into Excel at the time. So I went to Excel and got a defensive trial for England.
“I went to a defensive camp in Loughborough and kept on being invited to more camps. I then represented England U17s in Netball Europe and got selected for a tour of Jamaica as part of the U19s. I then got dropped in the last cut for the World Youth Cup in 2017. While at university, I decided to take a year out so I could concentrate on my studies.
“In 2017, I went to Severn Stars and played there for two years and now I’m back at Manchester Thunder and playing for the Vitality Roses. I’ve been in the full-time programme now for four years.”
All of these experiences have contributed to making her the player she is today; one with aims of getting picked for international tournaments and yet another VNSL title in 2020.
“My aim for 2019/20 is to become the best athlete I can be in the Roses programme, get that experience on tours hopefully and try to get picked for as many things as possible.
“Also, solidifying my position in the Manchester Thunder squad and regaining that Vitality Netball Superleague title.”