Northern Ireland aim high in European netball event

Elaine Rice has unfinished business when it comes to the European Netball Championships.

Last year's whitewash at the hands of England, Scotland and Wales in Cardiff was the low point of the coach's tenure.

"We know we did not perform last year," said Rice. "It was a horrible feeling coming off the court knowing we had not given our all. We need to put that right, cement our world ranking position and aim for higher."

Twelve months on, that tournament has long been consigned to history.

Northern Ireland are hosts this year and Friday's game against Scotland will be the first international on a home court in over four years, such is the tournament-based nature of the international netball calendar.

Lisburn was the previous host and now the Antrim Forum welcomes the home nations.

Rice has enjoyed great success in the previous 18 months as a part-time coach.

Northern Ireland won the prestigious Nations Cup in Singapore with six wins from six before qualifying for this summer's World Championships which is something Scotland, with a full-time set up, could not manage.

Northern Ireland are now 12th in the world rankings, having climbed from 19th in the past 18 months.

That allows access to funding but a steady performance this weekend is necessary to maintain that level of support, which includes a sports physiologist, a strength and conditioning coach and performance analysis through SINI.

"It will be tough but we are hoping for second place," added Rice.

"No Northern Ireland team have come second in the Europeans. Scotland are our bogey team but we beat them at the World Championship qualifiers while Wales are always difficult.

"It is a big ask but we are definitely capable. England are a bit out of our league. They receive huge funding and their players play in a Super League."

Rice compared a potential victory against England as the netball equivalent of the Irish cricket team's success over Andrew Strauss' side at the World Cup but if the second place target can be achieved in Antrim this weekend it will be the ideal build up to the World Championships in July.

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