Gabriella Marshall 2017

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Playing netball can sometimes be one big juggling act.

There’s strength and conditioning training, twice-weekly team training, studying, working full time; all while trying to have some kind of a social/home life. And you’ll struggle to find a player that feels like she is constantly trying to keep several (net) balls in the air at the same time more than Gabriella Marshall. The England u21 player has plenty to juggle. Constantly. In her third year of a physiotherapy degree, at Manchester Met, Gabriella’s life is relentless. If she’s not in a lecture, she’s at the gym; if she’s not at the gym, she on the team bus to an away game, and on it goes. So what keeps her coming back for more?
“If you love what you do, then it’s easy,” the 20-year-old said, without hesitation. I’ve got aspirations this year. I want to play in the Netball Youth World Cup this summer and that’s a goal of mine. If I stay in bed because I’m tired, the other 12 girls going for those positions will be ahead of me. I have that much on I have to be enjoying everything I’m doing and smile as much as possible – even though 95 per cent of the time I want to be going to sleep. You’ve got to want to be better every day and tick all the boxes. “


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In some quarters, this Superleague season is key for Marshall to cement her place as the regular starting centre for Manchester Thunder. And while Gabby recognises that too, it was the work she has put in leading up to this point that is key to whatever happens next in her career. Dragged along to watch her sister play and then bribed to take to court with the promise of a 4ft teddy bear as a reward if she did, it was from that moment that a little four-year-old Gabby was hooked. It wasn’t just playing netball that Gabs loved from an early age, she was a super fan of the sport too.

She recalls: “I was there at the old Super Cup final in Blackpool, when there were only 30 people in the crowd and most of those were parents. I have had a selfie taken with every member of the senior England team and there’s that famous picture of me as a kid posing with Karen Greig, who was shooter for Thunder at the time. Now she’s my coach. Manchester Thunder has always been a big part of my life since I was four. I’ve even been Thunderbear, so I am making my way through the ranks,” she jokes.

Marshall has been forced to wait for her chance, but she counts Tracey Neville handing her a Superleague debut in 2013 as the one moment she could actually make it in the sport she loved. “The first time I got on court in the Superleague was when Tracey threw me on for a quarter,” she remembers. “That was the only one I got all season but it was the catalyst where I thought I was young and have great players ahead of me but I was good enough.”

Where some athletes would have been put off by being third in the pecking order behind England players Sara Bayman and Laura Malcolm at her favoured wing defence and centre positions, Marshall chose to use it as inspiration.

She said: “I’ve been fortunate that I was learning off some great players like Sara and Malcs – I couldn’t have had a better netball upbringing. It was a bit frustrating that I was behind them but I knew I could make it eventually. For me, trying to me the starting centre at Thunder is my main aim and bringing my own aspects to the role.”

And it’s that kind of mature attitude that has won Gabs admiration and respect from her peers and coaches alike. She’s a natural leader and it was no surprise to see her named captain of the England u19s and u21s for two Netball Europe competitions, with the Roses victorious in both tournaments.

My leadership is a big thing. I’m not afraid to say things on court – I’ve always been like that, even around player like Kerry (Almond) and Liana (Leota), who have been there a million times before,” she says. “I like to have that voice on court.”

Having supportive family and friends is key for Gabs to push on with her career, with her mum ferrying around to matches all over the country in her youth a major factor. Playing netball is full of sacrifices, missing out on family occasions and nights out with pals, but Gabs says those close to her understand. The Cheadle-born star said: “I’m really close to my family and they understand and they know what I’m trying to juggle. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my family.”

Following a tough start to the season with two losses, Thunder got their campaign back on track on Saturday with a tidy victory over Superleague newcomers Sirens. And Gabs was named player of the match, which had an added meaning for her as it was the very first time her brother had come to see her play. Emulating the success of her role model Sara Bayman, who left Thunder to play in New Zealand at the end of last season, and the kind of international career Laura Langman has had for the Silver Ferns, is definite motivation for the Oldham Netball Club player.

But with her whole career ahead of her, Gabriella is determined to stay grounded – and realistic about her 2017 Superleague season– in a bid to keep the pressure she puts on herself to a minimum, with plenty of it coming from elsewhere enough to cope with. “It would be great to think I’m going to have all these match-winning interceptions and do all these great feeds, because realistically it won’t happen straight away, as we have seen from the first two games of the season. Ultimately it is an important season for me. And this season I could stamp my mark on the team but I want to do my best in each game and the rest will take care of itself. If I say I need to be getting POMs then it can be too much pressure on yourself.”

You can watch Gabriella and her team-mates take on Celtic Dragons for Pink Week in aid of Cancer Research UK at the Thunderdome on Saturday.

And it’s set to be anther sell-out. No pressure then, Gabs.

Report by Denise Evans