To be selected to play any sport for your country is a fantastic honour that very few people are able to experience; but to earn a full international cap before you’ve made your first start for your own club’s senior squad makes the achievement even more remarkable.
Yet for teenage netballer Erin Peters, that is exactly what has happened.
Erin’s progress towards her Ireland netball debut was actually even more unconventional, as prior to becoming an all-action mid-courter, she had been one of the finest gymnasts in the country in her chosen discipline.
“I did tumbling on a long mat,” Erin explained. “It’s not an Olympic event, but it’s really popular. I progressed through county, regional and through to national levels where you competed for a place in the top three in the country. I came third in my first year, second the year after, and finally won the competition in my third year, and it was after that when I decided to really concentrate on netball.
“I joined a local team in Stockton, but moved to Grangetown after Faye [Johnston] saw me, and said I should come and play at Grangetown. I’ve been part of the club for about two years now, but after training here for about a year, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Queen Ethelburga’s School near York, where Tuaine [Keenan] is one of my coaches. Grangetown have been so supportive and now I’m playing for Ireland … it’s all happened so fast and it’s quite hard to take in.”
Erin admitted that she’d also done a lot of cross country running, at which point I thought it was reasonable to ask: “Is there anything you’re rubbish at?
“Football… and rugby,” Erin giggled.
Just the two sports then … my fault for asking!
Erin is the second English-based Grangetown player (after Katie Walton) to be drafted into the Ireland squad, but how did she become involved in the Irish set-up?
“A while ago, the Ireland squad travelled over to play a match against Grangetown, and I had a call asking if I could play in the game; so, I came down and played as part of the Grangetown squad. After the match, everyone was shaking hands and saying ‘well played’, and one of the Ireland players jokingly said: ‘It’s a shame you don’t have any Irish relatives; you’d really fit in well to our squad.’
“’Actually, I do!!’
“We chatted some more and then Joan [Young, Ireland coach] came over to talk to me. We stayed in touch and about six months later, Joan invited me to a training session. I’ve only been over to Ireland twice for training, and played with the girls on just three occasions. I had the chance to play in friendly matches against Northern Ireland in Belfast, and then a weekend playing against the Armed Forces in Portsmouth; but the third time was the Netball Europe tournament in the Isle of Man, where I made my full debut.”
It's quite a big deal to fly to train with a group of people, some of whom you’ve met (briefly) once, but the majority you don’t know at all. How did Erin find that experience?
“My parents are both from Northern Ireland, as are nearly all my family, so I thought I was used to the accent, but when I first went across, there were a couple of girls I found it quite hard to understand!
“Everyone was so friendly though. I got to know them much better the second time I went across when we were in a match situation. Jan [Hynes] took me under her wing; she was lovely. There are also a couple of other English-based girls in the squad, and obviously I knew Billy [Katie Walton] and Genevieve [Slater] from Grangetown, which really helped.
“Then I met Fran [Duffy] who was quite close to my age. She was studying at Manchester and has since joined Grangetown too. Everyone’s been great and made me feel so welcome, and that made it much easier when I joined the squad for the Euros.”
There must have been nerves before that first game though?
“Definitely. I was selected for the opening game against the Cayman Islands and I was really anxious beforehand. I was picked to start at wing attack, and that was a bit of added pressure because if you start at centre, you don’t have to cross the line, you just have to pass the ball; so I was thinking ‘get over the line … second phase…’ and things like that. The girls told me I would be fine; that I knew what I was doing, and I’d relax once the match got underway … but yes, I was very nervous before the game…
“We got ready in the changing rooms then there was a pre-warm-up area where we could do some stretches and Niamh [Murphy] and I could discuss tactics. After that we went into the main arena for the warm-up, which was really the time to get rid of any nerves. If you’re going to drop a ball or throw a bad pass, do it in the warm-up then everything should be fine when the game gets underway.”
Ireland have traditionally been strong in the attacking mid-court positions. Captain Niamh Murphy led the team at the Euros, and recent squads have also included top-class players such as Kirsty Owens and Trish Fanning, but Erin acquitted herself superbly throughout the tournament. I was interested to know what Erin thought about featuring alongside one of Ireland’s finest ever netballers?
“Playing with Niamh is just amazing; she’s obviously very experienced and I feel really confident when I’m on court with her. Even though we’ve not played together very much, I think we combine well and just seem to click whether it’s on the circle edge, centre passes or channels; and she’s great at passing on advice and helping to improve my game.”
The next question showed the kind of probing insight that you just don’t get from professional interviewers: Did you ever consider showing off and doing one of your tumbling routines?
I reminded Erin of Kadeen Corbin’s famous back flips down the court after England had won Commonwealth gold last year. Erin laughed: “Next time we win, I’ll give Corbin a run for her money!”
Remember where you read it first.
Reflecting on her first taste of competitive international netball, what was the highlight? “That first game, the first experience; that was definitely the highlight because I didn’t know exactly what to expect…
“I thought the team played really well against Emirates too,” Erin continued, “but all the games provided us with new challenges. The Gibraltar match was the hardest; they’d watched our earlier games and were able to stop us playing to our strengths; it was tough, but you can really learn from games like that.”
I had managed to watch some of the action on the live stream and the commentators had a lot of positive things to say about the Stockton-based teenager. Was Erin aware of the compliments her performances were receiving?
“I had no clue. I don’t think I realised how big the tournament really was until we sat down to dinner on the Thursday night, and the girls told me that what the commentators had been saying. I rang my Mum and told her the games were being streamed, and she tuned in for every match after that - my family in Ireland were watching too. Mum would ring me on an evening to tell me what had been said, and obviously we had to watch some of the games back to review our performances. It was so weird hearing my name, and realising it was me that they were talking about.”
Having only played a few minutes in one Prem 1 game, how big was the jump from club to international netball?
“From club to country was a massive step,” Erin admitted, “but I’d been lucky enough to be part of the Queen Ethelburga’s squad that had become under 19 schools champions last year – we finished fifth this year – and playing against some of the best netballers in the country in your age group was great preparation for Ireland. The standard is so high and when you’re exposed to all those amazing players, that’s when you start to see if you’ve got the ability to step-up when it really matters.
“Although I haven’t really been involved much with the Grangetown Prem squad on matchdays yet, I have been able to train with the squad, which has been brilliant. The training is fantastic and that has also played a big part in being able to manage the transition into the Ireland squad.”
So, is the Prem 1 squad one of Erin’s goals?
“Of course. I definitely want to try and play Prem. I’m moving to university in Nottingham in September, but the games are on a weekend, so I’ll stay affiliated to Grangetown and hopefully if there’s an opportunity to play Prem 1, that’s something I’d love to do.
“I’ve also got the chance to have trials for Loughborough Lightning under 19s and 21s, so I’ll be trying to get involved with a franchise as well; and with Uni, Ireland, Grangetown and hopefully Loughborough, the competition levels will be amazing, and all being well, I’ll be able to keep improving my game. Certainly, if I got into the Prem squad at Grangetown, it would be a big achievement.”
Erin’s only appearance for the Prem 1 squad came when she was brought on towards the end of last season’s home fixture against eventual champions Oldham. Marking Erin that day was Laura Malcolm, who played such a major role in Manchester Thunder’s recent Super League Grand Final success. Kerry Almond and Kathryn Turner, both so influential in that final against Wasps, were also on court for Oldham; it’s hard to imagine a much better club side, or a harder introduction.
“I didn’t have much court time,” Erin recalled, “I think it was about five minutes, but Gel wanted to give me the experience and it was great. Oldham were top of the league and it was really tough, but it was also good to see just how high the standard was and what I’ve got to aim for.”
Back to the Euros and one of the things that stood out was Erin’s pace and movement around the court. Is Erin’s speed her biggest asset?
“Yes, it’s definitely my main strength, but I work hard on my stamina too, so I can maintain my speed throughout the whole game and not just for a couple of quarters. I like having a lot of running room, and moving my marker around the court as much as I can. That’s certainly my style of play and I think that when I was playing alongside Fran and Niamh at the Euros, we were able to inject some pace into our attacking play and get the ball down court really quickly.”
Erin Peters is clearly a gifted and confident athlete; she is also an outgoing and engaging young woman, who has already achieved so much in the sporting arena; but from a netball perspective, what does the future hold?
“I just want to work hard, play as well as I can for Grangetown, Ireland and hopefully Loughborough; and see where all that takes me. I’ll go to the under 19 and under 21 trials at Loughborough, so that I can come up against players that are two or three years older than me. That will give me a good idea of my strengths and the areas that I need to work on. The long-term ambition is Super League, but whatever happens I am so grateful to Grangetown for giving me such a good attitude to the game, and a desire to become the best player I possibly can.”