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New Northern Ireland netball boss sets sights on title joy

By Richard Bullick

New Northern Ireland netball coach Julie Kimber is aiming to secure immediate silverware when her team travel to the Far East for her first tournament in charge.

The girls in green go into the 10th Nations Cup in Singapore, which gets under way on Sunday, as favourites to repeat their triumph in 2009 - Northern Ireland's first ever international trophy success.

Northern Ireland are the highest ranked nation (12th) in this year's invitational tournament, which features six sides from four continents, so expectations of instant success are high.

Kimber, a refreshingly straight-talking Geordie, is making no attempt to shy away from embracing Northern Ireland's favourites tag for the competition.

The new woman at the helm has no hesitation stating that she expects the team to be arriving home on Monday week with some sparkling pre-Christmas silverware.

Although admitting that being without star shooter Lisa Bowman for this tournament is a big blow, Kimber believes Northern Ireland still have enough firepower to triumph.

She said: "We're going there as the highest ranked team and the girls absolutely believe in themselves. They've done well in Singapore previously and have plenty of big game experience."

Initially contracted until after May's European Championships, Kimber is intent on winning the event and improving Northern Ireland's world ranking.

Kimber has taken over from Elaine Rice, who was in charge for that 2009 Nations Cup win and returned for a second stint on a temporary basis following last summer's Commonwealth Games.

Unlike Kiwi Kate Carpenter, new national coach Kimber has only been employed on a part-time basis due to financial cutbacks and commutes from Gateshead.

That isn't ideal but the woman who has previously been British Colleges coach and worked with England's emerging talent is enjoying what is her first job at senior international level.

She said: "Everyone has been very welcoming and I've enjoyed working with new players, though I'm fairly familiar with those who have played SuperLeague for Team Northumbria."

Trying to prepare for a significant tournament so early in her tenure has been challenging but having a prolonged period to work with her players on tour is providing a silver lining.

Kimber added: "I'm delighted to have this competition which will let us work on things, show what's needed going forward and help me really get to know the players on and off the court."

Although insisting she "won't be their mate", Kimber is likely to prove more popular with her players than Carpenter, under whom morale was strikingly low.

Like her five predecessors, she has chosen Graduates goalkeeper Gemma Gibney as captain of a squad containing seven players from NI Premier League champions Larkfield.

Larkfield captain Caroline O'Hanlon and defender Fionnuala Toner of Belfast Ladies are the other two survivors from the 2009 triumph. Gibney won Player of the Tournament that year.

The girls will be facing Botswana, Singapore, Namibia, Chinese Taipei and Papua New Guinea on a round robin basis before the top two meet in Saturday week's final.

Belfast Telegraph

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