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Exclusive Interview: Netball U17’s Win First Ever Challenge Cup

On Sunday March 1st, the Ireland U17 Netball team took home gold after securing first place at the U17 Challenge Cup. This was the first ever time the Irish U17’s have secured first place in the history of this competition.

The tournament which was held at the National Sports Centre in the Isle of Man, took place from 28th February to the 1st March.

Ireland competed against the Isle of Man, Malta and Gibraltar – winning all three games. Victory in the tournament see’s the U17’s get promoted to the top division where they will face teams like England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Switzerland.

Incredibly in the Isle of Man, the U17 side won every quarter of all three games of which they played.

In the opening game, Ireland faced Gibraltar who they drew with last season. Ireland earned victory with a score-line of 38-26.

Speaking to Her Sport, Netball Ireland’s U17 Head Coach, Emma Wall said,

“Last year we came fourth playing against those teams and this year we finished first – so a lot of work has been done to get that turnaround.”

“We knew we were going to be up against it and we knew that the opening game was going to be tough. The girls stayed really focused on the processes and executed our game plan.”

“We won that game by 12 winning every quarter. We knew from then that we were in the contention for the gold.”

On Day Two of the tournament, Ireland faced the hosts – the Isle of Man. The Girls in Green tasted defeat to them last season and were determined to put it right this time around and that they did. Ireland secured a stunning victory, 46-37 which made everyone stand up and take notice.

“The second game was on Day two of the tournament against Isle of Man – the tournament hosts on their patch, on a Saturday. The venue was full, packed with the home crowd, so we were up against it.”

‘We played them last year and underperformed. We were disappointed with ourselves with that performance.”

“This year we were determined to prove what we can do and show them what we had.”

“The girls knew they could do it but put so much pressure on themselves. The energy in the warm-up was really low and all of that.”

“We were really lucky that we had a large group of supporters and parents who travelled over and they were collected in one area. We sent the manager (Jennifer O’Brien) over to give them the nod and of course ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ and the ‘Fields of Athenry’ went up.”

“I’ve never seen it lift the team so much – it was brilliant”

“Considering they had beaten us last year, that was a massive turnaround. I suppose you could say that was the ‘shock’ of the tournament.”

On the final day and going for gold, Ireland faced Malta. Having already played two of the stronger teams in the tournament and secured wins, Ireland were heavy favourites.

It was an opportunity to blood in players who were yet to have much game time or make their U17 debut. The changes did not have an effect on Ireland as they continued to dominate the court and won the game 51-35.

“We were able to start anyone who hadn’t played a quarter or only got a few minutes of a quarter. We started with all of them and they took it in their stride.”

As is normal at underage level, players have to move up the ranks as they get too old for particular age groups. The coaches saw this as the perfect moment to give those who were leaving the U17 set-up, a fairy-tale ending.

“In the fourth quarter we were able to bring on the seven players who are leaving us this year due to age. It was brilliant being able to let them finish as champions on the court, playing their last quarter together.”

Head Coach, Wall, always had belief that this side could achieve exceptional heights. With such a talented squad, the pressures came on keeping the focus and retaining the hard-working mentality.

“I knew in December that this team could win – they were that good. I don’t think they believed it but at the same time  didn’t want them to get too cocky because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

“They’re an easy group to coach. They’re so committed. They’re so focused.”

“That puts me under pressure as well because they really want to perform. A lot of them come other sporting backgrounds where they’re really high achieving.”

Co-captain Lana Hayes was part of the Loreto Beaufort team which over came Newpark Comprehensive to win the Leinster Hockey Schoolgirls Senior Cup.

Not performing to their own high-standards last year taught the squad a valuable lesson. This time around they learned to win.

“For me as a coach I’ve learnt – you can teach them all the techniques and tactics in the world but they needed to learn to be resilient and consistently perform.”

“You can’t teach that – they learned from last year’s tournament. They learned to lose and what that was like. This year they knew what they had to do. They learned to win.”

Co-captains Seren Redmond and Lana Hayes collected the cup on behalf of Netball Ireland, with Kaia Harte, daughter of former Republic of Ireland soccer International, Ian Harte, taking the player of the tournament.

Wall is a huge advocate of women and girls in sport. Research shows that at the age of 14, girls drop out of sport at twice the rate of boys. Wall doesn’t see why that should continue.

“I just think if the boys are at it why aren’t we? We’re well able.”

“The interest in women’s sport is on the rise the whole time. I think that staying in sport gives you so much more than dropping out of it. The friends and teammates you make.”

“But it’s not just that, there’s so much fun to be had. There’s no reason to give it up. I think you can be ‘sporty’ on a Saturday morning and ‘girly’ on a Saturday evening. You can be both.’

A huge result for Netball Ireland and undoubtedly we will be seeing and hearing more from these talented players in the near future.

HerSport Editor

Her Sport is a media platform centred on bringing the latest Irish and international women’s sports news. Her Sport aims to empower women in sport, inspire more female participation, increase opportunity and level the playing field for future generations. Our objective is to create real and tangible change.

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