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“We have just started” – Sarah Payas warns after Gibraltar Netball Wins Gold

Gibraltar Netball head coach Sarah Payas was on Monday adamant that the success of Gibraltar’s U21 netball squad in Europe Netball U21 Open Challenge was just the beginning for Gibraltar.
Speaking on her arrival to Gibraltar, Sarah Payas explained to this newspaper that “Gibraltar was not yet reaching its limits at all.”
“They underestimated us at this tournament. If you look at the draw I think they thought we would come third. The way it was set up. We mixed in some very young players with the older Under 21s and they performed very well, and there are more behind them that have the capabilities.”
“The future is bright, and I think onwards and upwards.”
Looking back at this weekend’s action in the U21 Europe Netball Open Challenge Sarah Payas explained, “I think the draw was set up where they thought the Isle of Man would win it but actually they had a young team I think Ireland was a really tough game.”
Her comments coming from the understanding that Europe Netball schedules tournaments in accordance to team rankings, where both the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man were far ahead than Gibraltar.
Speaking on the match against Ireland, where Gibraltar grabbed their first victory, she said, “they had and injury at a crucial moment which helped us because it was a shooter and gave us a window. But with the Isle of Man I felt we got away from them fairly quickly and maintained a bigger gap, whereas the last quarter with Ireland it was two up two down, two up two down, so that could have gone either way. But I thought with the Isle of Man we were more comfortable in the end.”
Asked if the manner she was taking the team forward for this competition was focused solely on the Under 21s or also looking towards the seniors, Sarah Payas indicated that it was looking towards the futures of both squads.
“This team, seven of them will not play under 21 again, they will now be seniors. There are five there who can compete for that (U21), so that was good, and it helped the seniors because they had to fly without the senior seniors players around them. No we have definitely not reached our limits we have a long way to go.”
Gibraltar now has an informal tournament in the under 19 in December where players will once again be tested.
Speaking on Gibraltar’s future development in the sport Sarah Payas commented in response to question from this newspaper, “Its gonna be tough in terms of the number of teams going out because financially that is a burden so a big sponsorship is what we need. There has been talk by both parties providing us with a home, I hope whoever gets into power fulfils that promise because we certainly need it and yes that would certainly help us to go further both those things.”
Speaking later to Janice Moreno a senior national team player who had led the Under 17s to glory as a coach and now been part of the technical team which led the Under 21s, she was to express a similar view of Gibraltar netballs future.
“For us this is probably only the start because we have been building for a long time, we have got the results, but for us it is about building our pathways and working on our local peers to see this through and continue as a long term project. Its not just satisfying what we have just now.
“Its what we are building behind the scenes that we continue to do week in week out all the support of the coaches and the support behind us.”
Asked on whether the next stage, considering recent successes would be looking at entering the elite categories of the sport where they would face the likes of England, Wales and Northern Ireland among others, Janice Moreno was optimistic of the future, although cautious.
“That’s what we always drive for. I think we do exceptionally well considering what we have here in Gibraltar. We are grateful on what we get in terms of allocations, but we just feel it is not enough, we go out of the way to do our own private strength and conditioning, we make sure we are fit by doing our own programmes but have world class facilities or elite facilities that we probably could have, because we do have a lot of players who are very committed to netball, but we just don’t have the full programme in right now. And we do need sponsorship, we need a bit more of the support from the government and I think our results will prove to them that our results can do it. So I think if someone is listening and comeback to us we can go further and see what we can do.”
Asked if players should be looking at pro level as a next step towards Gibraltar progress in international netball Janice Moreno highlighted that already some of the younger players were looking at such a prospect.
“We have a few players who go away even earlier than university now so that they go to boarding school , netball boarding schools, they do get a chat when they join our pathways to start looking at universities, obviously the studies come first and their course, but to see if they have a good netball programme, and we do have connections in different universities in the UK so that they can continue their journey of their netball pathway, even when they are away from Gibraltar. They don’t just go to uni and lose contact.
Even when they are in uni we are always in contact with them week in week out and talking to them and supporting them.”
As a senior player herself we asked Janice whether after seeing the Under 21s performance if she felt threatened for her own position in the senior squad.
“I don’t feel threatened. It is the mentality this youngsters have from the very first day we met. It’s a group who have gone to uni and we haven’t been together. And it’s just the mentality they have that we build that I didn’t have as a senior players a few years ago. It just makes you want to work harder because it makes you want to lift yourself up. Its health competition now when it comes to trials now. But they are now knocking on the door. They have performed at quite a high level in intense pressure and they have proven mentality and physically that they have what they need.”
The Gibraltar Netball Under 21s, at least the part of the team not studying in the UK, returned this Monday morning to a small reception from family and friends. Their triumph in Europe Netball not seeing any representatives from sports authorities present as has been seen in past sporting achievements, further highlighting the work the sport still needs to do to gather support from a wider sector of the community. Although the second largest sports association in Gibraltar after football, it is also the only major sport without a home and competing for allocation space with the likes of basketball, futsal and volleyball among other sports.
The sport nonetheless continues to achieve high results. In just five months bringing back both the senior Open Challenge divisional trophy and now the U21 Open Challenge trophy. With player of the tournament awards in each and numerous players of the match awards, having also in recent years won the Under 17 Open Challenge competition and rising in their ranking to number 31.
The sport, however, still having to battle past the longstanding barriers which women’s sports have faced in the past on how they are perceived and the continued challenge of competing for recognition as one of the top achieving sports in Gibraltar against sports with a greater financial budget than their own.
Gibraltar Netball, however, will now be looking at playing in higher categories and will be preparing to host the World Youth Championships in 2025 where as host they will compete against the elite of world netball on home ground.

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