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Niamh Cooper

Northern Ireland’s Niamh Cooper insists there is an exciting crop of young players who can put the Warriors back at netball’s top table after failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup. 

Defeats to Scotland and Wales during October’s round robin qualifiers meant Northern Ireland would miss out on the showpiece in South Africa, having finished 10th at the 2019 edition.

There is no hiding the disappointment for Cooper, who admitted this was perhaps her last chance at a second World Cup appearance.

But the Surrey Storm star is confident in the ability of the next generation to bounce back.

“We’re obviously massively disappointed not to have qualified,” admitted Cooper.

“We had quite a lot of debutants and that lack of experience and the pressure of needing to qualify probably got to us a bit and we didn’t perform where we’re capable of performing.

“There is a lot for us to take away from that now that we’ve had a bit of time to reflect on it all. It’s given us an opportunity over the next four years to work on what we need to and build the team for the future.

“There is a huge amount of talent in the youngsters that we have, it’s about giving them the experience to develop that talent on the international stage.

“I think Northern Ireland can be in a very good place in four years’ time if we use that time appropriately.“In four years’ time, lots of those players will be 26, 27, peak age for playing netball and hopefully we’ll be seeing some superstars.”

 

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Cooper is just one of a handful of Warriors currently playing in the Netball Super League, compared to the victorious Wales and Scotland sides who boast a full compliment of players battling it out in the UK’s elite netball competition.

It is something the 30-year-old knows must be worked on over the next four years, with targets now set on the 2026 Commonwealth Games and 2027 World Cup.

And Cooper is hopeful that the hurt of missing out this time can help lay the foundations for future success.

“I’ve been really lucky to be part of a generation where we have qualified for a number of Commonwealth Games in a row,” added Cooper.

“But I was there when we didn’t qualify and I know what that feels like – that put fire in the belly of the team that qualified multiple years in a row.

“Possibly some of the younger ones coming through don’t recognise that feeling. This is the first time we haven’t and it’s not a given, and hopefully it will put the same fire in their belly.

“Ultimately, it’s all well and good saying you’ve gone to three Commonwealth Games and a World Cup with Northern Ireland way back when, but if you don’t leave a legacy that the country continues to go to these competitions, it doesn’t really mean very much.

“It’s really important we get ourselves back on the main stage.”

That is the sole aim now for the Warriors with no World Cup to focus on for the next year, and Cooper believes more fixtures against similarly ranked opposition will be the key for the development of Northern Irish netball.

A Test series against Uganda before the qualifiers was a rare opportunity to face non-European opposition outside of a major tournament, and despite a pair of defeats, Cooper believes it is the key to future development.

“We had Uganda over before the qualifiers and that was such a fantastic opportunity,” said Cooper.

“We want to be targeting playing against those nations that are sixth to 12th in the world.

“We’ve really struggled against the African nations, they have a completely different style of play and it works so well and is frustrating to play against.

“We’ve come close but we’ve struggled to beat them. More matchplay against those countries would be beneficial.

“That’s really what we need and that’s what we’ll be targeting – small Test series against African and Caribbean nations.

“It’s great to have a big Christmas wish list but you need money and not qualifying for the World Cup strips your funding so we’re probably back to a bit of fundraising.”

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