Netball Ready for the Big Time

For those suffering withdrawal from the Women’s World Cup salvation is at hand in the shape of the Netball World Cup that gets underway in Liverpool today.

Better still we have an Irish presence on the court with Northern Ireland appearing as the eigth ranked team in the world.

All the games will be shown live on BBC and prpeare for a wave of social media and short form content backing up Team England, led by Tracey Neville, sister of Phil and the rest of the teams.

We caught up with the Chair of Netball Northern Ireland Geoff Wilson as he checked into his hotel in Liverpool yesterday and got to talk to him about the size of the sport north of the border and the potential impact of making it onto the biggest international stage.

“There is a very strong base in the school system with 9,000 registered players and that is progressing to our club network as well where there are 1,800 players registered,” said Wilson.

“That’s the platform that has propelled us from 12th in the world a short while ago to eighth now and successive competition at the last Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and now here at the World Cup.”

“Success breeds success and we are finding a lot of players now combining their playing of Ladies Gaelic Football in particular with playing Netball as an indoors alternative.”

Among those players is team captain Caroline O’Hanlon who plays in the SuperLeague for Manchester Thunder but still returned home in the winter to line out for an 18th season on the Armagh Ladies Football team in the Lidl National League.

She was the Northern Ireland flagbearer at those Commonwealth Games and has been the focal point of publicity around the team before they headed over.

“Caroline somehow manages to find the time to be a Doctor as well so in terms of a role model for young girls being able to achieve great things in sport and in life you could not ask for better.”

As a sport, it has not yet really taken off in the republic but Netball Northern Ireland are working closely and sharing experience and some resource in helping to develop that further.

“We have a team of eleven staff working at Netball Northern Ireland now which would compare very strongly with a lot of sporting organisations in Ireland.

Every year we deliver on all of our programmes, give an opportunity for players to perform at their best and still make a profit.”

“The media profile in advance of the World Cup has been immense. We’ve had the BBC, Sky, UTV and of course Sport for Business taking an interest and there is a real opportunity to take the sport to another level.”

“It’s a very inclusive sport and easy enough to stage so a lot of local authorities here are looking at how to support it. There has also been interest from the commercial world.”

“PwC came on board with us as a partner and have really taken to it. We had the Managing Partner in the Belfast Office playing a few weeks back and they are looking now at organising social netball for their staff here. It’s really well suited to that as it can be easily played as a mixed sport and the set up is quite straightforward.”

“We’re delighted to be working with the most successful netball team that Northern Ireland has produced, and especially during this critical World Cup year,” said Paul Terrington of PwC.

“This is a team driven by passion for the sport and determination to succeed, and I’m inspired by the world-class level they’ve achieved, particularly as semi-professional athletes.”

“Rushmere Shopping Centre and Kukri Sports are backing us as well and we’ve also had interest from other sporting clubs, in Gaelic Games and Hockey in terms of setting up teams in netball under their banner so there is a real positive vibe about it at the moment.”

Doing well at the World cup will fan that positivity and the hope is that the team will live up to its world ranking and make it to the knock out stage, at least.

They have a tough start against Australia at 11 AM today, followed by Sri Lanka on Saturday morning and Zimbabwe on Sunday afternoon.

With this being a four day holiday in the North there is ample opportunity to watch and get behind the team.

It promises to be something a bit special and will hopefully lead to the game expanding further.

For a taste of what it’s all about this BBC promo, featuring Caroline O’Hanlon, is not a bad place to get a feel for it.

Image Credit: Eoin Noonan, Sportsfile

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