Belfast Telegraph

New coach Ryan is fired up for quest to leave a lasting mark on NI netball

 

By Richard Bullick

New Northern Ireland netball coach Dan Ryan is determined to leave a legacy well beyond next summer's World Cup in Liverpool.

The engaging Australian readily admits that the opportunity to take charge of a team at the sport's showcase event was an appealing prospect but it isn't the extent of his ambition here.

After leaving his post as head coach of Aussie Super Netball franchise Adelaide Thunderbirds last summer, Ryan is enthusiastically embracing new challenges in the northern hemisphere.

Alongside his part-time role with Northern Ireland, he has been appointed assistant coach of Manchester Thunder ahead of the new British SuperLeague season which starts on January 5.

Ryan previously steered Thunder to the SuperLeague final in 2016 as their head coach so will be back in familiar surroundings and working with Northern Ireland captain Caroline O'Hanlon.

World-class centre O'Hanlon joined Thunder last season after spells with Team Northumbria and Scottish Sirens and shone as her new team reached the SuperLeague semi-finals.

"The coach-captain relationship is very important so us both being at Thunder is a bonus and it will help me get to know Caroline really well," said Ryan.

"Playing in SuperLeague can only be beneficial for our NI internationals and I'd like to see this season's figure of three increase in future, as others are talented enough to get picked up."

From working within the sport both as a coach and commentator, Ryan has followed Northern Ireland's impressive progress in recent years and admired how the girls in green repeatedly punch above their weight.

"For such a small nation to be ranked eighth in the world in spite of resource constraints and a limited player pool is a great credit, especially to my predecessor Elaine Rice, who did a fantastic job," he said.

"It has always been my dream to lead a national team and I'm inspired by the energy and passion in Northern Ireland netball so this felt like the right opportunity at the right time.

"Before applying for this job, I did due diligence around the organisation, the players and the culture. My expectations are high and already I've found the playing group so receptive.

"It isn't just about this shop window World Cup but building a sustainable high-performance programme, knowing what success looks like and how we plan to achieve it. That will take time."

Coming from a country where netball is a fully professional sport to working in Northern Ireland where players have to pay to play at international level is a real culture change.

"In (Australia's flagship domestic competition) Suncorp Super Netball, all the players are full-time professionals so the environment here is very different and that's a significant challenge," said Ryan.

"But I've experience of working with part-time players in SuperLeague in England and know you can make necessary compromises without compromising standards of professionalism and discipline."

Ryan agrees it's an exciting time to be back in Manchester with the English success at the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards adding to the buzz around netball.

Although it hurt him as a proud Aussie, he acknowledges that England's dramatic victory over his countrywomen in April's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games final had a silver lining.

"I think England winning gold was the best thing to happen to netball at international level for a long time and will help enhance the sport's push to be a genuinely global game," he said. "They've had the potential without breaking through up until now but this success really opens it up and the conversation can no longer just be about Australia and New Zealand.

"With what happened at Gold Coast, the profile from BBC Sports Personality and the 2019 World Cup being in England, there's a real window of opportunity for netball across the UK."

Northern Ireland netball had its own night of glory at last January's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards and Ryan wants to help push the sport's popularity to new levels here.

"Back home in Australia, netball has fought hard to break the glass ceiling and earn its place as a viable premier sport with real commercial and spectator appeal and a big playing population," he said.

"It's been part of my life since I was intrigued as a young kid watching my mum play. I began playing at age eight and had the honour of becoming the Australia men's team captain.

"I did a degree in journalism and worked in netball broadcasting. Coaching started as a hobby at high school level but thanks to opportunities and successes it has become my profession.

"At 34, I'm still quite young as a head coach but have experienced working in the best franchise competitions in the world and this is an exciting time for me. Now I'm leading a national programme as well as being back in SuperLeague and have the honour of preparing a top eight team for what will be an exceptionally competitive World Cup."

Fate has decreed that Ryan's Northern Ireland meet his native Australia in a daunting opening game of the tournament on July 12, in a repeat of their Gold Coast baptism of fire.

"That will be a fantastic stage for our players and a proud day for me personally. I think it's good that we start against Australia before facing Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in our other group games," said the Northern Ireland team's first male coach.

"I've never faced any issues as a male coach in netball. It's all about respect, professional relationships, having good credentials and the potential to improve players."

Belfast Telegraph

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