When England begin their campaign to win a first ever Netball World Cup next month, one player will have more reason than most to want to win.
On July 12, a focused England will take to the court in Liverpool with Geva Mentor a key and influential figure in a history-making attempt to win that elusive title.
Rewind 16 years and as a teenager, Mentor was preparing for the first of four World Cups that have led to this moment.
As she launches her autobiography ‘LEAP’ – based on a lifetime of sport and a groundbreaking career for an English player in netball – the first question is what she can remember most about 2003, a World Cup in Jamaica for an England team that were a world away from where they are now.
“The training we did in the lead up to it,” she exclusively tells Sky Sports.
“Being in Jamaica it was really hot so we trained in Hitchin, they have a heat chamber up there and I remember doing netball passes against the walls; half the squad were on the bikes.
“We invested in these ice-pack vests that we could wear in between quarters to keep us cool, cold towels over your wrists to cool down your core body temperature. We did about three months preparing for this hot weather training, hot weather World Cup.
“We get to Jamaica, we step inside the stadium and it’s Baltic! It’s so cold because of the air con.”
England finished fourth on Mentor’s debut, losing to Jamaica. “I loved the opportunities I got, the quarters, the half games, and just learning from the experienced girls in the squad,” she said.
“In our bronze medal match, against Jamaica, we rotated through four goal keepers so I got my opportunity to come on. I think I probably spent a quarter out there, didn’t do my job, got subbed straight back off quickly!
“It probably wasn’t as much heartache as the fourth positions as been over the years because it was just about experience.”
Since, England have lost in the semi-final on all four occasions with Mentor present for them all, improving from fourth in 2003 and 2007 to third in 2011 and 2015.
She will start this World Cup in Liverpool as the Roses’ undisputed goalkeeper, a position she holds 15 years on from her first England memories. In 2019, the Roses are arguably favourites for the competition and certainly haven’t ever been in better shape after Commonwealth gold last April.
Playing in Australia for more than 10 years, Mentor is better placed than most to know how the Roses’ primary rivals took that Gold Coast shock. She is equally aware of the increased expectation on the home side as they prepare to take to the World Cup stage this time around.
“We are definitely very aware of it. The important thing is we make the most of these opportunities and everything that is coming but making sure we still do everything that we would normally,” Mentor notes.
“I think that pressure is always going to be there and there’s probably more added interest with print, TV and radio covering more of individual players and the team in the build-up.
“If we were to drop a game then everybody might say ‘Oh what has happened’ whereas before we’ve dropped games but we’ve still been alright and it’s been about lessons learnt so that’s probably the difference.”
Netball World Cup Finals [1991-2015] 1991 Australia 53–52 New Zealand 1995 Australia 68–48 South Africa 1999 Australia 42–41 New Zealand 2003 New Zealand 49–47 Australia 2007 Australia 42–38 New Zealand 2011 Australia 58–57 New Zealand 2015 Australia 58–55 New Zealand
To get a sense of what the Roses achieved on the Gold Coast, a quick look down the list of Australian and New Zealand dominance at the major finals will tell you what they pulled off – Mentor has looked on at the sport’s showpiece final every year since 2003 and is under no illusions about what it now means.
“You can talk about belief and you can talk about what it looks like and what it feels like but until you actually have results and hard evidence, and that’s what it did for us last year, then you know you’re on the right track,” she added.
“As someone who has been trying for so long, it’s not just a relief but it’s that satisfaction that we were on the right track and it is attainable, and then you get a whole load of emotions from excitement to relief to joy to being overwhelmed.”
Mentor is speaking ahead of the launch of her autobiography LEAP, and her lifetime of sport has plenty to offer, good and bad, on and off court.
“I think everyone goes through different stages in mental strength, whether that is weaknesses or things they need to identify,” she said. “I’ll always be the person that had perspective and that’s probably got me through some tough times that may have hindered other people.
“I probably owe that to my mum and the upbringing that she gave me, to make the most of every opportunity and not take things for granted and that everything happens for a reason.
“I think as well just knowing that there’s highs and lows with sports whether it’s coming fourth repeatedly in Commonwealth Games and World Cups, it’s just how you dig yourself out of that hole and try and not take it on personally – it’s a team sport.
“The biggest thing is being able to recognise we do have low moments and being okay to accept that that was tough, that was horrible to cop, but knowing that those highs, those memories that you make along the way can hopefully balance it out – it comes back to that balance I guess.”
It speaks to her standing in the game that an England player has managed to command so much respect that she’s picked up Player of the Year awards in Australia to go with four titles in her time Down Under.
When she left Sunshine Coast in the off-season, she was probably the league’s most sought after player and she opted for a fresh challenge with Collingwood Magpies, her fourth team since first heading for Australia in 2008 after a couple of Superleague titles with Surrey Storm.
Mentor has just wrapped up the first half of the Super Netball season – a rapid fire 72 hours has followed as she prepares to join her England colleagues in training camp with just three weeks to go before festivities in Liverpool.
It’s an appropriate time to consider the title of her autobiography – LEAP. Her original thoughts were to call it ‘Jump’ as that’s what she spent her life doing, from a burgeoning early trampoline career to her soaring performances in the GK dress. However, the final credit is not her own.
Mentor said: “My boyfriend just walked in the room… when I got the front page back and ‘Jump’ was the name of the title of the book, we were like ‘Oh we are not too sure about it.’
“He says ‘What about leap? It’s so much more positive’ and so now he sort of takes full credit, not only for the title, but for the whole book!”
So why now? “That was the key with writing the book,” she added. “That it wasn’t just about me or the netball world, it was about life lessons that people can take along the way whether they are in elite sport or whether they’re just doing their day-to-day job or routine or whether they are male or female, and that’s the inspiration behind why I decided that, yep, this is a good idea, let’s put myself out there.”
For more than a decade Mentor has plied her trade in Australia, where netball generates front and back page headlines, where she has experienced the ups and downs that shape her story, but is there a chance the Superleague could catch her one more time.
“I definitely would say that Australia is home for me but I haven’t ruled out playing netball anywhere else,” Mentor said.
“If I am still of value to a team then I’ll be there – in the UK or New Zealand or South Africa then I would definitely weigh up that decision to see if it works with myself or my family.
“It would be great to come back to the UK and have a bit of a swansong there particularly since my netball all started there.”
Before any swansong, Mentor has unfinished business for her country that just so happens to be in her homeland.