Three wins in four gruelling days has guaranteed that Ireland will record their highest ever placing at Singapore’s annual Nations Cup netball tournament.
This is the fifth time that Ireland have sent a squad over to Asia, finishing sixth out of the six competing nations in 2012 and 2014, and fifth in 2013 and 2016. Victories over the USA in 2013 and Canada (twice) last year had been Ireland’s only previous successes in what is both a competitive and hugely important event; but how those fortunes have changed over the past few days.
In the absence of Niamh Murphy, the twelve-strong Ireland squad is captained by Genevieve Slater, who has been an integral part of the international set-up for a number of years. Gen was the team’s ‘Player of the Tournament’ in both 2012 and 2013; she’s a strong leader on court, and her defensive partnership with Grangetown team mate Katie Walton has certainly been a feature of the last four days.
Niamh herself was named ‘Player of the Tournament’ in 2014, but last year’s recipient Kirsty Owens is with the squad in Singapore; she’s a superb all-round athlete and the regular centre in Joan Young’s starting seven.
I wrote about the wins over Singapore and Malaysia earlier in the week (the former being one of my highlights of the entire sporting year), and although the Cook Islands halted Ireland’s run of victories, the squad quickly returned to winning ways with a comprehensive defeat of Hong Kong, a side currently ranked just two places below Ireland.
One interesting aside from that loss, is that the opposition shooter Alanna Smith is the reigning Miss Cook Islands. She was one of the 118 entrants in Miss World 2017, and only missed out on a place in the final forty, when she came second out of twenty-three contestants in a pre-pageant “sports challenge”…
The winner of the overall title was Miss India Manushi Chhillar - undeniably pretty, but Gen would have her for breakfast on a netball court.
Anyway, back in Singapore, this week’s performances and results demonstrate just how much can be achieved by combining skill and ability with sheer hard work, dedication and determination. Remember that netball in Ireland is a non-funded minority sport, yet these girls train and practice like any other elite athlete, whilst still having to hold down full-time jobs.
They might never be in the same league as Australia, New Zealand and England; but so what?! Given all the obstacles they have to overcome, the young women who represent Ireland are every bit as inspiring as any of the more recognisable names at the pinnacle of the sport.
Tomorrow is a much-needed rest day, but on Friday (9am UK time), the girls take on Swaziland, the other side with three victories thus far. It’s a huge game that will be streamed live on Netball Singapore’s Facebook page, so if you’ve got an hour or so to spare, why not spend it watching and cheering on Ireland?