The latter group comprises the hosts, Malta, Switzerland… and the Republic of Ireland; and obviously I am particularly interested to see how the Irish girls perform in what will almost certainly be the biggest tournament of their young careers.
Netball is not a “traditional” sport in the Republic and for the senior squad to have made enough progress on court to achieve a world ranking of 26 without any regular funding is a notable achievement. From having met and spoken with a number of the current squad, I am so impressed not only by the incredible dedication and determination it takes to be an elite athlete, but also the amount of work involved in raising funds for training, kit, and travel to the tournaments that are absolutely essential to continuing development.
Some of these players (as well as having full-time jobs, by the way…); are also involved in coaching those youngsters who will hopefully become the international stars of the future and the upcoming games in Gibraltar will be a test not only for the teenagers out on court, but also for the development process that Netball Ireland has worked so tirelessly to implement.
To compete in an international arena at such a young age is a wonderful opportunity. I’m sure there will be some nerves, but sometimes that can bring out the best in an athlete. What is for certain is that the girls will learn something about themselves as people as well as netballers; and the coaches will be able to reflect on individual and collective progress within the squad, as well as also directly comparing Ireland’s performances against other developing nations.
What is just as important however is that the girls make the most of the experience—and enjoy it. Clearly there is a serious side to sport (the higher the level the greater the intensity); but I can’t stress enough that sport is also supposed to be fun.
So in wishing the very best of luck to these twelve young Irish girls who will be representing their country over the weekend, I also hope that win, lose or draw, you have a fantastic time and an experience you will remember for many years to come….
Details of the full fixture schedule can be found on the Netball Europe website, but if you want to tune in and watch the Ireland squad in action, they play Gibraltar at 10am on Friday 4th March, Switzerland at 12pm on 5th, and finally Malta at the relatively unearthly hour of 9:30am on Sunday morning.