Even the Australians had to admit Bailey Mes had them beat.

It was 2011 and an unheralded young netball shooter with a strange name ("Mes, like mess?") had just delivered a masterful performance in the goal circle in an extended pre-season game between the Northern Mystics and the visiting NSW Swifts. Matched against English import Sonia Mkoloma - at the time one of the most formidable defenders in the world - Mes dazzled. She had the Swifts defenders' heads spinning as she ducked and dived around the shooting circle. The athletic youngster was just as impressive in the air, effortlessly outleaping her opponents to pull in the high balls.

Those on sideline wondered how they had not heard of this kid before.

"I really like your little shooter, she's fantastic," the Swifts media manager told then-chief executive Mark Cameron. "Yeah, she is coming along really well," replied Cameron. "She's more in the team as a development player, but in two or three years she will be right up there."


The Swifts' representative, confused by the lack of excitement over the young shooter, responded: "I would say she's ready now."

Six years on, Mes' time at the Mystics has finally arrived, many would say belatedly.

After a two-year stint with the Mainland Tactix, the 27-year-old has returned to her hometown franchise for the inaugural season of the ANZ Premiership, which starts tomorrow with a triple-header in Hamilton.

Mes, who, in her time away from Auckland has established herself as the starting Silver Ferns shooter, is rejoining the Mystics a much different player to the one that packed up and went to Christchurch two years ago in search of more court time.

"I've come a long way from when I was last in the team. I'm obviously older and one of the more experienced ones in the team now, which is quite different to where I was sitting when I left," she says.

Sitting was quite literally what she did for most of her five-season stint with the Mystics. On the bench that is.

She had the misfortune of sitting behind a well-established shooting combination in Silver Ferns star Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Tuivaiti, who was regularly the most accurate shooter in the competition. Although the pairing were hugely experienced, it was a partnership not without its flaws. But former Mystics coach Debbie Fuller seemed reluctant to throw Mes into the mix, opting to use her instead as a midcourt utility.

Given what Mes has gone on to achieve with the Silver Ferns over the past two seasons, it raises the question how much more advanced she could be at this point had her talent been nurtured better at franchise level. You can't help but wonder if Mes had come through the Australian system, where reputation is secondary to talent and hard work, whether her career trajectory would have been quite different.

But these are not questions Mes bothers herself with. "There are a lot of reasons why things have panned out the way they have - it's hard to say what would have happened [if I'd been given a chance sooner]. It's not really something I spend any energy thinking about. I'm really happy with where I'm at now, and that's the main thing," she says.

While Mes wasn't always appreciated at franchise level, former Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu saw something. She first selected Mes in her test side in 2012, albeit as a midcourter, despite the youngster having played just one quarter of transtasman league netball then.

Mes would have almost certainly got the call-up the following year, this time in her specialist position, had a she not have been cruelly felled by a serious knee injury in her final game of the season for the Mystics. The athletic shooter had managed to force her way into the starting line-up over the latter stages of the 2013 transtasman league season, with stand-in coach Ruth Aitken favouring Mes over an out-of-form Tuivaiti.

Despite making a remarkably swift recovery from a ruptured ACL, returning to the court within nine months, Mes was overlooked for the Commonwealth Games team in 2014.

But the Ferns struggles in Glasgow convinced Taumaunu the attacking end was in need of a drastic overhaul ahead of the 2015 World Cup, and Mes was central to those plans.

The bold ploy very nearly paid off, as the Ferns came closer than anyone thought they would to upstaging the Australians on their home soil.

Since being handed the starting GS bib, Mes hasn't relinquished it, underlining her importance in the New Zealand set-up in last year's international season.

"I've been in the framework for ages, but I didn't have that really solid time on court until recently. Even from 2015 to 2016 it was quite a step up from being the new one to one of the more experienced ones in the team, so I'm pretty happy with my development over the past couple of years," she says.

But Mes still hasn't been able to entirely shake the perception among some fans that she is a little bit fragile. For many, the wiry shooter will forever be remembered for a horror air-ball riddled performance against England in her first full game at goal shoot for the national side. What a lot of people forget was at that point, Mes still had very little court time at franchise level.

She says it took a lot of painful, and very public lessons, for her to find confidence and consistency on the shot.

"I just had to keep doing it. I knew it would come, I just had to push through it," she says.

"The day-to-day volume stuff is important, but under pressure and in game situations is where you really learn. When you're taking the ball under pressure, you have a defender right on you and then having to turn and shoot, it takes a while to learn how to cope with that."

Having developed that resilience, it is now Mes' decisions that have impacted on where other shooters have opted to play their netball in the new elite domestic league.

Mes' return to the Mystics saw Tuivaiti - the player that kept her on the bench all those years - head to the Pulse in Wellington to try to reignite her career.