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Jill McIntosh

Jill McIntosh swapped Canberra for Cardiff a year ago and has not looked back into the sun since.

While the inclement Welsh weather may pale in comparison to the sunny climes of Australia’s capital, McIntosh has not let that dampen her spirits since taking charge of Cardiff Dragons.

There have been big changes at the franchise over the past year, not least a name change from Celtic to Cardiff, and McIntosh has been central to adjustments on the court that have lifted Dragons from bottom of the pile to comfortably mid-table as the 2024 season moves past the halfway stage.

Change also came in the form of an almost entirely new squad but their uptick in form is no surprise to the vastly experienced McIntosh, who believes there is still more to come over the last two months of the season.

“We’re on track as to where we thought we would be,” said McIntosh, who won two World Cups and two Commonwealth Games gold medals as Australia head coach.

“At the beginning of the season, we looked at everything, looked at our group and all the other groups, and thought midseason we would be around the middle of the table and that is a good spot to be.

“Historically people see Dragons as being down the bottom of the table, so it is nice to get the team off the bottom. It’s going okay but we still need more wins.”

Jill McIntosh

McIntosh first arrived in Cardiff towards the end of last season and was unable to prevent Dragons from finishing bottom of the table but saw enough potential to sign up for a full season stint in Wales.

It has meant some sacrifices, including listening to Aussie Rules, and her beloved West Coast Eagles, on the radio but the 69-year-old is relishing the return to coaching at an elite level as well.

“It has been quite a number of years since I’ve actually looked after a team in a competition such as the NSL,” she added.

“You weigh everything up and there was a challenge there to come in and try and improve the position of Dragons.

“I’m very much enjoying it. We’ve got a great group that you can talk to, they talk to you, they have their ideas and together we come up with a solution.

“It’s not just a one-way street, it’s a coach-player relationship where you get the best. I enjoy hearing their view on things and what they think would work.”

Putting such a group together was a key challenge for McIntosh, who had just a few weeks in charge before the signing window for the current season opened.

But she revealed she knew exactly what she wanted for each position, with personality being just as important as skillset.

Jill McIntosh

“The recruitment from us this year has been very good,” she said. “We have a great group of players, they get on very well, it’s a very cohesive group and that’s half the battle.

“Not only do you look at the player, you look at the person and the person has to fit in with the culture of the franchise. The culture is one of inclusiveness, it’s player-driven, with every player doing their little bit – and that’s not always on the court, that’s off the court as well.

“They had to fit the profile of what we want for each position and then also be a relatively good team player and a nice person.”

If McIntosh is missing any home comforts, she has recruited plenty of compatriots to give Dragons a strong Aussie flair this season.

Jacqui Newton arrived from Collingwood Magpies while English Rose Elle McDonald and Welsh Feather Leah Middleton both grew up Down Under before switching international allegiance.

“It’s great to have them,” she admitted. “Some things I say not everyone understands, some of the quirky little things us Aussies say, little things that we relate to back in Australia, Aussie Rules back home that sort of thing, we can talk about that because not many of the Welsh or English players get what we are talking about.”

Jill McIntosh

Dragons now have seven games left to build on their current sixth place standing, which would represent their best finish since 2014 should they maintain it.

McIntosh is confident there are better performances to come from her team and will look to use every ounce of her experience to get them over the line.

She said: “You sit down sometimes with an issue you need to solve and think have I come across this issue before and if so, what did I do to solve it?

“You go back and think at that moment in time, whenever it was, we solved it by doing this and you bring it forward to now. Sometimes you have to tweak things but experience is a wonderful thing.

“You are always experiencing, learning, growing and new things come up from week to week, day to day.

“We’re just taking it one match at a time, the old cliché, and looking at what we can do to win. We certainly go into every match wanting to win and knowing we can win if we put it all together. That’s still the dream, that we have a brilliant four-quarter performance every game.”

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