Dan Ryan discusses Northern Ireland's development ahead of Netball World Cup
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By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 02/07/19 2:35pm
On July 12, Northern Ireland will step onto the court for the first time at the Netball World Cup and as fate would have it, they’ll be facing the defending champions and their head coach’s native Australia. As that moment edges ever-closer, Dan Ryan opens up to Sky Sports about Northern Ireland’s preparations, their development, identity on court and focus for Liverpool.
Unlike many national coaches, Ryan has not had years to develop his squad in anticipation of this summer's tournament. Instead, he's had just months after stepping into role at the end of November 2018.
Ryan, whose Mum taught him how to play netball in the backyard, loved taking to court himself and his athleticism and skills saw him reach the highest level as captain of the Australian men's team.
Following two spells with Manchester Thunder and appearances as part of Sky Sports' broadcasting team, his name and voice are extremely well-known in the Northern Hemisphere. His experiences in the Southern Hemisphere are equally strong too and the combination of working in both parts of the world means that his knowledge base is extensive.
After joining Northern Ireland, Ryan had to build through a camp format consisting of two or three days with his players every two weeks, sometimes flying in and out for a days training.
Greater contact-time arrived only in June and his first port of call was to observe how his players operated in their own space before he set about raising the bar.
"I guess coming from Australia where true high-performance has a huge emphasis in our training environment, where world-class training quality and intensity is expected, I wanted to ensure that I brought that mentality and philosophy to this group and really encouraged them to go above and beyond what they were comfortable with and what they were used to doing," Ryan told Sky Sports.
"It's been really important for me that I empower the players to pull out their better than best performances every time we are together and their highest of highs intensity levels so that they can be a little bit more accustomed to handling the intensity that they're going to face at the World Cup.
"The other thing that I had a look at is, they're all really good athletes and they all play the game really well but they were probably just used to playing the game, as opposed to really strategically thinking about what they're doing out on the court.
"One of the biggest things that I wanted to implement for the group was a lot more structure and organisation in the way that we play and have a really clear purpose about why we're doing things, how they can benefit us and how we can combat and impact the opposition. So getting players to be a little bit more strategic and a little bit more tactical in the way that they think about the game as athletes out on the court.
I’ve really enjoyed their coach-ability and their open-mindedness to take on new ideas and give it a go. It’s seen a lot of them go to the next level with their training quality and overall performances, it’s seen some of the senior players have a really fresh outlook on the game.
Dan Ryan about his Northern Ireland squad
"As a team they're getting a really clear picture of the way that I want them to play, the identity that I want the team to have and the way that we're going to behave and operate that will hopefully allow us to play a brand of netball that is something that's going to be very difficult to play against."
Agbeze & Layton join Sky Netball line-up
Ama Agbeze and Sharni Layton have been added to an exciting Sky Sports line-up for this summer's Vitality Netball World Cup. Watch every game on Sky Sports Netball and via our YouTube channel.
Northern Ireland are ninth in the INF Rankings and finished eighth at last year's Commonwealth Games. The athletes are not professional and don't have the luxury of a full-time training environment like their opening-opponents in Liverpool do. Instead they're juggling work and family life and doing the sport for the love of it. Ryan is inspired by his athletes.
"What I've enjoyed, being back over this side of the world working with this team, is just the level of appreciation that these athletes have for representing their country and the dedication they show in doing what they do to make it happen. The respect I have for the way that they go about their business is enormous," said Ryan, who developed as a coach within the professional environments of Australian netball.
"They train with the same level of professionalism, they now put out the same level of intensity and they give their best effort all the time they're there, except they're not paid to do it and they sacrifice so much to be involved. They're used to paying to be involved in the programme, they're fundraising to get themselves to the World Cup and still they do it with a smile on their face and love what they do.
"That is refreshing and it makes you want to be a part of it, because everybody is there for the right reasons and the same reasons and it's truly a great environment to be a part of. These girls understand 'team' and I love that about them.
"Although I'd love to see a change where we have more funding in the programme to assist us to go to the next level and allow the players to have more time to focus on their netball. But, it is what it is and we certainly make the most of what we have."
Follow the Vitality Netball World Cup on Sky Sports
The Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 starts in Liverpool on Friday, July 12 and you can watch every match of the tournament live on Sky Sports.
As an outfit Northern Ireland are making their 12th appearance at netball's pinnacle event and finished eighth during their last campaign back in 2011.
Stylistically Ryan has implored his players to use the elements that they're known for while adding the tools that they have been working on during their time together.
"We have some really great defensive firepower in the team that loves to fly and hunt for ball, we've got some great speed through the mid-court and we've got some real diversity in our shooting circle," noted Ryan.
"So really what I want to see is the players having the confidence to use their weapons and strengths out on that court, no matter who they are up against, be fearless and be a really difficult opponent to play against.
"We've put a lot of time and effort into building a really structured approach into the way that we want to play the game and being really organised in the way that we play so we're not just in freestyle mode. They're actually really thinking about what they're doing and why they're doing it and it's bringing the players strengths to the fore.
"I hope that education piece around offering a few more tools that maybe they haven't been aware of previously, can just see them take the next step and be better equipped to handle certain situations in games."
Tenacity, grit, hard work and strength are four fundamental factors that Ryan notes you will always get from Northern Ireland and they are factors needed in abundance when taking on the defending champions. The question is, would the head coach have preferred to meet the Diamonds later in their Preliminary Group Stage campaign or does being first out of the blocks help?
"It's a really interesting question and I think that it's a really interesting proposition going into a World Cup when you're one of the countries that are probably outside of medal contention but are really looking for a high-ranking finish," said Ryan.
"The reality is that we're not at the level of the Australian Diamonds and thinking that we can beat them is a little bit unrealistic. While we want to perform really well against the Diamonds and we absolutely will have some really key targets to achieve in that game so that we're focused and on track while maintaining perspective. We also need to be really mindful that our must-win games are against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in our pool games.
"We're looking at those first three teams in a number of different ways, but the thing that is always going to be the constant for us, is making sure we've got our own backyard sorted first, we focus on what we can control and we put our learning's into performance.
"It's a tough opening-round game but I'm actually glad that we've got them first because it's going to be a great opportunity for everybody in the group, to hopefully, get out there, get rid of the nerves and feel the intensity of the competition. What an opportunity to play and coach against the world's best, we will all absolutely embrace that moment."
"We’re going to have to be very disciplined. We’ve talked a lot about our game plan and I suppose having that discipline to stick to the game plan throughout and trust each other. We’re going to come up against teams that are bigger than us, that are stronger than us but we have to have confidence in what we can do, and focus on the strengths that we have within in our team."
Caroline O'Hanlon - Northern Ireland captain
When leading into any tournament the potential to lose a player to injury is always there. Unfortunately for Northern Ireland this is something that they have had to deal with of late, as Ryan explains.
"We lost one of our most experienced players and starting shooter in Lisa Bowman just a few weeks ago to injury which is a huge blow for the team," the head coach shared.
"It's devastating, but such is life in elite sport. We've all rallied together as a team and refocused really quickly because we have no choice but to.
"Having Noleen Armstrong return to the squad ensures we have the required experience and depth within the team and her re-introduction has been seamless"
A huge THANK YOU to everyone involved at @thundernetball, especially @kjgreigy @DebbieHallas for having me this season. Such a special club to be part of, full of brilliant people, great netball & lots of laughs. What a perfect way to finish #WINNING 🙏🏆 https://t.co/pRMrG3IRhT— Dan Ryan (@DanRyan84) June 14, 2019
Away from Liverpool the news that Ryan will depart the title-winning Vitality Superleague side Manchester Thunder has left many wondering about what his next move will be following July's tournament.
As you'd expect he remains sharply focused on the World Cup but the head coach has shared with Sky Sports that his intention is to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future and added that he has had "a number of opportunities to consider" as to how that might take shape.
For now, it's all about Liverpool and in the blink of an eye Ryan will be leading Northern Ireland against the Diamonds as they start their World Cup campaign. This summer's tournament promises to be the most competitive and exciting in the sport's history and there's no doubt that Ryan's Northern Ireland will play a big part in ensuring that it hits the heights from the outset.
Watch every match of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup live on Sky Sports. Coverage starts on Friday, July 12 plus keep up to date with all of the latest competition news, results and enjoy in-depth features atSkySports.com/netball