Northern Ireland star Niamh set to be a storming success in netball elite
Northern Ireland defender Niamh Cooper has signed for British SuperLeague side Surrey Storm on the back of her impressive performances at this summer's Netball World Cup.
The 27-year-old doctor from Belfast, who has won 52 caps, will return to the northern hemisphere's showcase competition next February following a four-season absence.
She was among several Northern Ireland internationals at the now-defunct Team Northumbria in 2014 when Kiwi Kate Carpenter coached both the girls in green and the Newcastle-based franchise.
Having appeared at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in the meantime, Cooper spent the following year at Loughborough University as part of her medical studies and linked up with Lightning for the 2015 campaign.
However, she will be returning to the competition next spring as a much more established player, capable of making a real impression, and is relishing the opportunity to compete at the elite level on a regular basis.
With Northern Ireland's international fixture list so inadequate at present, national coach Dan Ryan has spoken of the importance of more of his Warriors securing SuperLeague contracts to access regular high-intensity netball.
Warriors skipper Caroline O'Hanlon helped Manchester Thunder claim the SuperLeague title in May, while vice-captain Fionnuala Toner joined London Pulse last season and Michelle Drayne has featured for Saracens Mavericks in recent campaigns.
Cooper had spoken ahead of July's World Cup of her ambition to get back into SuperLeague and how the timing was right at this stage of her medical career, having completed two years since graduating.
"I knew the World Cup could be an important shop window in terms of attracting interest from franchises, subject to me getting court time and playing reasonably well," said the Kingsway star of her big-time move.
"Unfortunately the tournament didn't go quite as well for Northern Ireland as we hoped in terms of results, but I'm grateful for the opportunities Dan gave me and I came away from Liverpool with a real energy and desire to push on as a player.
"Unlike a couple of years ago, when I'd an approach from Team Northumbria, I was open to offers and am delighted to have this opportunity with Surrey Storm, whose style I've admired.
"They've an established SuperLeague pedigree and are keen to get back into the top four next season under Mikki Austin, who is so ambitious, and I'm really looking forward to working with here."
Sleeping giants Surrey Storm, champions as recently as 2015 but who finished seventh this year, should be bolstered by the arrival of Cooper, an engaging individual with an impressive physique who trains and plays with ferocious intensity.
Storm supremo Austin enthused: "Niamh has vast international experience and impressed at the World Cup. She's a phenomenal athlete with a great personality, and has slotted into our group with ease."
Although only announced now, Cooper has been training with Storm in recent weeks ahead of the British Fast5 All Stars Championship at London's Copper Box on October 12.
Before then she is set to be first choice wing defence for Northern Ireland in the European Championships, which start at Antrim Forum a fortnight tomorrow.