Belfast Telegraph

Rising star Cooper is hitting new level

By Richard Bullick

Young Graduates star Niamh Cooper is determined to make the most of the privileged position the emerging generation of Northern Ireland netballers find themselves in.

"I feel fortunate to be coming through at a time when we've access to professional support services through the Sports Institute from early in our careers," she says.

"The more experienced players have done absolutely brilliantly in recent years in establishing Northern Ireland as a force at international level in spite of not having these advantages.

"They really appreciate how things have progressed and it's important my age group don't take this for granted but work very hard to make the most of what's available to us."

Watching Cooper's imposing performances in the recent International Festival, it would be easy to forget that this is the 20-year-old's first season as a first choice starter at club level.

Current Grads captain Lisa McCaffrey's year long lay-off following foot surgery meant Cooper played regularly at centre in their double-winning team of two seasons ago.

But until veteran former NI skipper Bronagh McAfee stood down from first team duty ahead of this season, the north Belfast medical student wasn't guaranteed a starting spot.

Having won her first competitive cap coming off the bench in the Festival's opening game against Botswana, she was elevated to the starting side the next night against St Lucia.

Cooper played an impressive part in Northern Ireland's 25-goal victory over the team only one place below them in the world rankings and then excelled against top 10 outfit Barbados.

"I was over the moon to get the start against St Lucia, something I didn't expect, but the senior players looked out for me," she said.

"The intensity at senior international level is a massive step up but I enjoyed every minute.

"With video analysis now we've been able to really learn lessons.

"It's an exciting time to be involved, with the Commonwealths coming up at the end of the season."

Cooper should help Graduates maintain their 100 percent record at the top of the Premier League with victory over Donaghadee.

The other unbeaten team, Larkfield, face a straightforward game against Dromore and champions Belfast Ladies are odds on to get back to winning ways against Banbridge.

PREMIER LEAGUE: Belfast Ladies v Banbridge, Donaghadee v Graduates, Dromore v Larkfield, Laganside v Causeway, Westside v Bangor.

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