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Elaine Rice back at helm of Northern Ireland netball


Top girl: Elaine Rice is back in charge of the Ireland netball team

Top girl: Elaine Rice is back in charge of the Ireland netball team

Top girl: Elaine Rice is back in charge of the Ireland netball team

The Northern Ireland netball team's most successful coach ever, Elaine Rice, is back in charge of the girls in green.

Although her reappointment has only been formally announced now ahead of this weekend's two Tests against Scotland in Lisburn, Rice has been working with the squad since mid-December.

A senior lecturer at St Mary's University College and currently coach of Belfast Ladies, the 37-year-old former Northern Ireland captain had a highly successful first stint in the role.

When Rice first took over in the autumn of 2008, the Northern Ireland team was on a slippery slope with prominent players opting out of international netball.

But she got everybody back on board and presided over a transformation of fortunes with NI climbing to an all-time high of 11th in the world rankings.

In spite of a demanding day job and difficult pregnancy, Rice steered the team to a maiden international trophy triumph and qualification for the 2011 World Cup, at which Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals.

But she stepped down after that tournament to facilitate the appointment of a first full-time national coach, thanks to the side's success having attracted additional funding from Sport NI.

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Last August, Northern Ireland finished seventh at their first Commonwealth Games after failing to qualify for this summer's World Cup in Australia.

The euphoria following Glasgow 2014 was tempered by a realisation that the World Cup body blow had serious implications for Northern Ireland netball.

Their dashed hopes of a Sydney swansong have triggered the early retirement of several leading lights.

With a lack of high-calibre replacements coming through, there are fears it could be many years before Northern Ireland reach another major tournament.

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