Never give up: why Bulley keeps on bouncing back

REBECCA Bulley's entire career is a testament to not giving up.

The longest-serving player in Australia's Diamonds netball squad, the 32-year-old will nonetheless play in her first - and almost certainly her last - World Cup, which starts next week.

Following a blistering season for the Queensland Firebirds, in which she became the first player to win three national championship titles with three different teams (the previous two were the NSW Swifts and Adelaide Thunderbirds), Bulley has found herself in a place she didn't expect to be.

"I didn't even think about Diamonds selection this year - it was the icing on the cake," she told APN Sport.

"When I'm enjoying netball and feeling relaxed, I play my best. And I think that's what happened this year with the Firebirds."

Selection at this year's World Cup on home soil has capped a long-running but fluctuating international career for the determined defender.

First named in the Australian squad in 2005, she didn't make her international debut until 2008. She was dropped the following year, but fought back to be part of the silver medal-winning Commonwealth Games team in 2010, before being named Australian player of the year that season.

She then spent another few years in the wilderness before her national selection this year.

Bulley said she was philosophical about the ups and downs.

"The times that I haven't been selected, I think I've come back even better because I've had that determination to bounce back," she said.

That's an attitude she has tried to pass on to the young children she has come into contact with through her game-development roles for state netballing bodies over the past decade.

"It's one of the biggest things I try to tell kids - when you do get a disappointment or a knock-back, don't give up," she said. "Think what else you can do differently or better. For me, that's about making sure I'm selected next time."

Bulley's work with children has been a great way to be paid for a job close to her heart that she can also juggle around her playing career.

"I want all children, but particularly girls, to have that opportunity to play netball, or at least some kind of sport," she said.

"Apart from the physical benefits, I think sport is so good for children's mental development. "It also teaches them about things like teamwork and coping with losing - those are important too."

The 32-year-old has always worked while preparing for big competitions, but not this time.

With her 12-month contract with the Firebirds finished, Bulley has moved back to Wollongong to be with her husband of nine years, Randall, and to enjoy the build-up to the World Cup without the usual juggling pressures.

"My preparation has been really good - I'm just training, not working, and I'm eating well and resting well," Bulley said.

"And I'm just enjoying this time of being with my husband. 

"We've done the long-distance thing for the past three years, so it's nice to be living together again; it almost feels like we're in a honeymoon phase."

If it's a honeymoon phase, it sure involves a lot of hard work.

Training is a combination of weights and fitness work in her home town, twice-weekly trips to Sydney for intensive on-court training, and video analysis and teleconferencing in between to keep the widespread team members connected and cohesive.

There's little doubt who the Diamonds' biggest rivals are - New Zealand, Jamaica and England - and Bulley said she was enjoying the challenge of picking apart their styles of play, and strategising on how to confront them.

With Australia having won 10 of the past 13 world championships - and finishing second in the other three - there is equally little doubt which team goes in as the favourite, and where the pressure of history is sitting.

But Bulley said she was doing her best to ignore that pressure.

"The way we look at it is that we just try to improve every game," she said.

"We want to be the best Diamonds team in history; we're aiming for that perfect game, or as close to it as we can."

Just weeks away from her 33rd birthday, Bulley is the oldest player in the squad and it's no secret she has been contemplating retirement.

Check out our Netball World Cup preview on Friday, August 7
Check out our Netball World Cup preview on Friday, August 7

 

An Aussie retention of the world title would cap off an amazing 2015 for the current ANZ Championship title holder, making it the perfect time to finish on a high.

And there is another factor in the equation that she doesn't feel she can put off for too much longer - the prospect of having children with her patient and supportive schoolteacher husband.

It's a constant conundrum for female athletes, who often have to decide when is the right time to interrupt their sporting careers to have children or put it off altogether until retirement.

"I feel like at this stage of my life, it has to be a choice between one or the other - having kids or my sport," Bulley said.

"If I'd been five years younger, maybe I'd be able to have a baby and come back, but the game is just so physical now and the players are so strong, I don't think I could do that now.

"It doesn't matter what career you have. If you want to have children, you don't want to put it off to the point that you miss out on the opportunity, and it is something that's important to me."

If she is planning to retire on the back of a successful World Cup campaign, though, she's not dropping any hints.

All she'll say is she hasn't made any decisions yet and she's still in discussions with the victorious Firebirds about whether she'll return for another season.

And for the moment, her focus is entirely on the important task of helping the Diamonds to hoist that World Cup trophy, which has been a dream of hers for more than 15 years.

"When I was 18 and at the AIS, we were asked to write down our goals, and I wrote down that I wanted to compete at the Commonwealth Games and netball world championships," Bulley said.

"I don't think I understood then what it really meant to represent your country at events like this.

"So at the end of it, I just want to look back and know that the team did the best it could, and that I soaked up the experience and got the most out of it that I could."



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