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Perfect Storm for Warrior Cooper

Niamh Cooper has signed for British SuperLeague club Surrey Storm Niamh Cooper has signed for British SuperLeague club Surrey Storm
By Staff Reporter

LOCAL star Niamh Cooper has signed for British SuperLeague side Surrey Storm on the back of her impressive performances for Northern Ireland at this summer’s Netball World Cup.

The 27-year-old doctor from Belfast’s Antrim Road, who has won 52 caps, will return to the northern hemisphere’s showcase competition next February following a four-season absence.

She was among several Northern Ireland internationals at the now defunct Team Northumbria in 2014 when Kiwi Kate Carpenter coached both the girls in green and the Newcastle-based franchise.

Having appeared at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games meantime, Cooper spent the following year at Loughborough University as part of her medical studies and linked up with Lightning for the 2015 campaign.

However she will be back in the competition next spring as a much more established player capable of making a real impression and is relishing the opportunity to compete at the elite level on a regular basis.

With Northern Ireland’s international fixture list so inadequate at present, national coach Dan Ryan has spoken of the importance of more of his Warriors securing SuperLeague contracts to access regular high-intensity netball.

Warriors skipper Caroline O’Hanlon helped Manchester Thunder claim the SuperLeague title in May, while vice-captain Fionnuala Toner joined London Pulse last season and Michelle Drayne featured for Saracens Mavericks.

Cooper had spoken ahead of July’s World Cup of her ambition to get back into SuperLeague and how the timing was right at this stage of her medical career, having completed two years since graduating.

“I knew the World Cup could be an important shop window in terms of attracting interest from franchises, subject to me getting court-time and playing reasonably well,” says the Kingsway star.

“Unfortunately the tournament didn’t go quite as well for Northern Ireland as we hoped in terms of results but I’m grateful for the opportunities Dan gave me and came away with from Liverpool with a real energy and desire to push on as a player.

“Unlike a couple of years ago, when I’d an approach from Team Northumbria but the timing wasn’t right for my medical career, I was open to offers and am delighted to have this opportunity with Surrey Storm, whose style and work ethic I’ve admired.

“They’ve an established SuperLeague pedigree and are keen to get back into the top four next season under Mikki Austin, who is so ambitious, and I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

Before then she is set to be first choice wing defence for Northern Ireland in the European Championships which start at Antrim Forum next Friday when the Warriors clash with Wales (3.30pm).

Cooper got significant game-time at the World Cup in spite of Northern Ireland’s three 2018 SuperLeague players being mid-courters, with Toner often featuring at goal defence.

With veteran goalkeeper Gemma Lawlor set to announce her retirement from international netball, Northern Ireland’s back three against Wales seems certain to be teenager Michelle Magee, Toner and Cooper.

“It’s great to have this tournament coming up so soon after the World Cup,” added the North Belfast woman.

“When we were leaving Liverpool everyone was ready for a break but there was also a hunger to get going again.

“We don’t get enough competitive matches, and seldom have the chance to play internationals in front of a home crowd so we’re relishing these Euros in Antrim and hope to get good support.

“Because it was all televised, the World Cup captured people’s imaginations and I think we made a positive impression in spite of falling just short of a couple of wins which would have transformed the overall outcome.

“It’s great that Dan has signed a new contract since to World Cup to continue as coach for I think the potential is there for the team to keep progressing over the next couple of years.”

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