The full circle path of a trail blazing Emerald

YOUNG Irish star Niamh O’Leary has experienced first hand how frustrating it can be to represent your country in a sport in the middle of the popularity pecking order like netball is in Ireland.

With netball lagging behind several other sports like rugby, Gaelic football and hurling in terms of media coverage and funding, O’Leary expressed how frustrating it is that the netballers – including national side, the Emeralds – do not get the same level of coverage as the teams in those other sports.

“I think it’s partially difficult because we have such a love for the country and we want to promote it in the best way possible,” she said. “I’m a very big Ireland rugby supporter. The media coverage, the sponsors it gets, the amount of money that gets put into it, it’s incredible to see but at the same time we are doing the same job.

“We’re representing our country, playing the sport we love, playing hard. We work well as a team but we’re just not getting that coverage and breakthrough we need.

“Especially because netball is becoming so popular around the world, the promotion of England Netball, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, even Jamaica now coming through and Uganda.

“I think we have a drive and a motivation to really push netball in Ireland and get the promotion it needs and get that break and media coverage so we’re then able to be up there and compete with those bigger teams and hopefully bring more players over that are eligible and give it the popularity it deserves.”

O’Leary’s passion for the topic has coincided with a full-circle journey to the international stage, where she is now back representing her country of birth.

Born in Mullingar to an Irish father and English mother, O’Leary then moved with her family to North Western England at the age of four.

It was in England where her netball journey began. Although she played plenty of sports as a kid, she did not take any quite as seriously as she did netball.

Her netball journey started at a local level as a 12-year-old, before quickly progressing through to the Lancashire Under 15s side two years later.

She then progressed to the Netball Prem competition, where she has been playing for the past five years.

O’Leary also trialled for the pathway systems of both the Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder as a teen and while initially unsuccessful, made the Rhinos’ Under 19s side last year.

On top of all of that, she has also made the Association of Colleges’ side and that was where her quest to become a Republic of Ireland international began.

Through being a part of that side she met future teammate Rosin O’Rourke, who informed O’Leary that the Emeralds were looking for more shooters in the Under 19 age group. After initially playing in a six-period friendly against Northern Ireland about 12 months ago, O’Leary was informed by the coaches that they would prefer she played in the Under 21s team.

One of her biggest career highlights to date was the recent Test series against Northern Ireland and the opportunity it gave her to play against some stars of the Netball Super League like Michelle Magee and Caroline O’Hanlon.

Currently thriving on and off the court, the physiotherapy student still harbours some major career goals.

“I’ve always said to my Mum since I was young, I absolutely adore Suncorp Super Netball, absolutely love it,” she said. “When it’s on I watch it religiously… I would love to be out in Australia playing, even as a training partner for one of the clubs or hopefully working up to Super League in England, getting spotted though there and brought over like Fran Williams, like Ellie Cardwell, Helen Housby.”

Unlike many others in the netball world, O’Leary is a fan of the controversial Super Shot.

“I love the Super Shot,” she said. “I think it’s also bringing a new challenge in, so for shooters you don’t just have to be able to be extremely tall and get the ball brought into you and put a shot in under the post, it’s actually giving goal attacks and goal shooters a time to shine putting a two point shot in.

“You don’t just have to as a goal attack be a feeder to the goal shooter and put the odd shot up when you need to, it’s almost your goal is to practice those long range shot, get those two point shots in.”

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