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Netball stars flying South Lanarkshire flag on gold coast

Published Thursday, 29 March 2018

SLLC coach with the six South Lanarkshire members of the Scotland Netball squad competing at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018

Team Scotland’s netball stars are flying the flag for their country but also South Lanarkshire at the Commonwealth Games.

With only a week to go till the team's first match at the Games in Australia's Gold Coast, the squad, which is currently enjoying its highest ever ranking of 9th in the world, is fielding a 12-strong Scotland squad featuring six athletes from our area, all of whom have come through South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture’s hugely successful netball development programme.

Amongst them are a high school student, a primary school teacher, a secondary school PE teacher, and university students, all juggling work and studies with a gruelling training and fitness schedule.

They are: Niamh McCall, 17, from Strathaven; Lynsey Gallagher, 25, Nicola McLeery, 22, and Samantha Murphy, 26, all from East Kilbride, Emily Nicholl, 23 from Biggar and 18-year-old Bethan Goodwin from Cambuslang. All but two – Lynsey and Sam – are competing in their first ever Games, hosted by world netball’s number one seeds in a country where the sport’s athletes are considered superstars.

Mary Frances McNeill, Netball Development Officer at SLLC says the Gold Coast experience will be one to treasure, with the girls having put in 20-25 hours training a week to reach physical peak. She said: “There are huge levels of fitness and commitment involved at the top level of any sport but it’s not always recognised just how much goes into a fast, technical sport like netball.

“People talk about how swimmers can be up and in the pool at 5am, well these girls can be in the gym then too and putting in endless hours in fitness and conditioning training. There’s much more to it than the netball match itself.

“With so many girls falling away from sport in their teen years, what a testament to women in sport these young athletes are. It takes huge commitment, family support and input from club, district and Netball Scotland, the sport’s National governing body.

“I was fortunate to be seconded during Glasgow 2014 and being behind the scenes allows you a unique glimpse into these girls’ physicality and commitment. I was just blown away; these are athletes in the true sense of the word.”

There’s also a huge sense of pride in the girls who Mary Frances and the wider SLLC team have watched flourish over the last decade.

Mary Frances added: “I’ve been doing the job for 20 years and know that it takes time to build from the roots up. However, I would say that our reputation has grown steadily in the last 15 years or so with representation in the Scottish squads at both under 21 and under 17.

“I first met Lynsey and Sam, who are mid 20s now, when they were still at primary school. They came right through both our primary and secondary programmes, then club and district level and on to national squad. Now having been joined by four more who have come through the same route, it gives us such a sense of pride and satisfaction that our investment and commitment in the netball development programme has been so worthwhile.”

SLLC’s netball development programme is delivered by Active Schools co-ordinators in all primary schools with netball festivals enabling young people to compete against other teams, staged four or five times a year.

At secondary level the same input is offered in school with regular tournaments on offer. A district programme is then available at under-15 and under-17 level where 48 girls are selected to represent South Lanarkshire.

Maintaining interest and commitment during the crucial teen years is no mean feat.

Gerry Campbell, General Manager of SLLC, said: “Our active schools coordinators spend a lot of time and energy providing open opportunities for young girls to participate in sport. There are many competing interests at this stage of life and it’s such a testament to the work of our team and the commitment of the young athletes that we are so well represented on the Gold Coast.

“I personally am delighted at seeing our girls represent their country. It’s a testament to the work and investment of SLLC and of course of the young people themselves. Each of them is a fabulous role model for young women in sport. They work so hard and deserve all manner of success.”

Team Scotland has already qualified for the Netball World Cup being staged in England next year. To go into that having maintained or even bettered their world ranking would get them off to a flyer.

Mary Frances said: “The team is up against some formidable opposition at the Games with most of the top five teams in the world in their group. Their aspirations are to challenge the teams around them such as Fiji, Malawi and Wales.

“If they come home, having achieved 8th or 9th against the best in the world; for them that would be their gold medal.”

Team Scotland will play five games in a ‘round robin’ kicking off against England on Thursday 5 April at 3pm Australian time. Their subsequent matches are:

  • Wales – Saturday 7 April
  • New Zealand – Monday 9 April
  • Malawi – Tuesday 10 April
  • Uganda – Wednesday 11 April