Vitality Nations Cup: Sunshine Girls show positive signs after tough year
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 27/01/20 1:02pm
When asked if Jamaica are back, new head coach Connie Francis said, "I want to believe so," and following their productive Vitality Nations Cup, the former international might be right.
The Sunshine Girls went into the four-team tournament as the only side not to have played Test netball in the build-up.
The side's last outing was at the Netball World Cup in July last year and it completed a competition which was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
Defender Shamera Sterling described their work in Liverpool as "embarrassing" and tensions between the governing body and players followed in the months after.
Those two factors meant Jamaica arrived at the Vitality Nations Cup with a question mark next to their name. Would they be under-prepared and disjointed, or would they surprise people?
Victories over South Africa and England turned heads, and despite two losses to New Zealand, the overarching takeaways from the competition are positive ones as they seem to be more comfortable and happier under Francis.
Francis, a former international player herself, is taking charge for a second time and couples excellent tactical knowledge with strong player-relationships.
"Connie Francis is just one of the best," Jamaica player Nicole Dixon said. "She works hard, and she believes in us and she helps us to believe in ourselves."
It's about resilience, purpose and fixing it because I thought that in Liverpool we could have played much better and the girls realise it. It was important for us to shake-off what has happened before and to come back fighting.
Connie Francis on the Sunshine Girls
Throughout their four matches, Dixon was a linchpin at Centre with Khadijah Williams flying against England.
The experienced Jhaniele Fowler did what she does best at one end with Shamera Sterling linking up well with both Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Latanya Wilson at the other.
As a collective they weathered some hairy moments, managing to hold off the Roses' final-quarter charge against them in London, and held the world champions to a 30-30 stalemate at half-time in the final.
However, for all of Jamaica's positives - their happy demeanour, natural flair and greater structure in their play - they made errors at times and none more so than in the third quarter of the final.
"The footworks, bad passes and foot-on-the-line errors at throw-ons, all of those little things shouldn't be there at this level," Pamela Cookey said post-match.
"They're basic errors and I don't think it was the pressure. It was just the loss of the mind, not being [present] in the game for 100 per cent of the time and not seeing it through."
Lisa Alexander, head coach of the Australian Diamonds, has been an ever-present fixture during the competition and she agreed with Cookey's observations and assessment.
"It (basic errors) shouldn't happen at this level. The other area is their defensive work, they don't need to give away silly penalties and be standing out of play," she said.
"They want to be off the body and show the umpire that they have clear space. If they do that, then they are really dangerous because they are so athletic and uncanny with their ability to intercept."
Like all nations, Jamaica are at the start of a new four-year international cycle and, after a Netball World Cup to forget, this Vitality Nations Cup will have helped them to draw a line in the sand.
Despite having things to work on, including keeping their discipline and finding another option to Fowler at GS, the Sunshine Girls have showed that the building blocks are in place for them to compete at the highest level again.
World netball is a better place when Jamaica are strong and if they continue on this trajectory, they will be back where they belong when it comes to major competitions in just a few years' time.
Sky Sports is your home of netball and is back on your screens next month when the new Vitality Superleague season gets underway with all 10 teams in action at the Season Opener from Arena Birmingham on Saturday, February 22.