NEAMH Woods believes Northern Ireland’s netball team have realistic top five aspirations ahead of the World Cup, which gets underway in Liverpool this morning.
And the Clanabogan woman, who captained Tyrone to an All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship title last year, is confident that goal can be achieved.
Their campaign starts at 11am this morning in the Echo Arena against one of the pre-tournament favourites, reigning champions and the current world ranked number one team, Australia (the game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports).
After that the Northern Irish ladies can realistically target two wins in their remaining Stage One Preliminaries Group A fixtures before moving on to Stage Two where, if results in the other groups go as expected, they can look to surpass their current world ranking of ninth.
“In our group we have Australia, so that’s a big ask obviously, but our two competitive games will be against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, which are both winnable games,” observed the Drumragh Sarsfields club woman.
“They are both ranked lower than us in the current world rankings, so we will be targeting those two games, hopefully for wins.
“If we were to win those two games, we’d go through and, depending on who goes through from other groups, we forecast that we could possibly meet New Zealand, Malawi and Barbados.
“Our current world ranking is ninth, and if we were to progress the way we would like to, then we’d be hoping for the 5th/6th play-off as opposed to the 7th/8th, but it all depends on what way we come out of the group and who qualifies out of the other groups.
“If we could get into the 5th/6th play-off, we’d be happy.”
Although buoyed by the remarkable success of Ireland’s women’s hockey players, who earned silver medals at their World Cup last summer, Neamh thinks that achievement is a little out of reach for Northern Ireland on the netball court.
“Everyone is really looking forward to it because it’s been since 2011 that Northern Ireland qualified for the Netball World Cup, so we’re in a very fortunate position and we’re really looking forward to the challenge,” explained the 30-year-old, who will miss Tyrone’s opening All-Ireland Senior Championship group game against Mayo this weekend.
The St Ciaran’s College Ballygawley PE teacher, who is eagerly anticipating making her World Cup debut, continued: “The girls in our squad have all had that experience of the Commonwealth Games last year, so it’s a very tight group.
“We’ve all stuck together this year and we’re all looking forward to another big competition.
“But anything better than [the 5th/6th play-off] wouldn’t be realistic because the top four teams in the world – Australia, New Zealand, England and Jamaica – are semi-professional and professional, and they are most likely going to be the semi-finalists.”