Julie Hoornweg talks about netball in Wales with such passion and enthusiasm that it’s difficult to envisage how she will walk away at the end of her agreement.
Australian Hoornweg took charge of Welsh netball during February following the departure of head coach Trish Wilcox and is overseeing a major revolution in teamwork, intensity and playing style.
It’s clear Hoornweg has made a major impact with Wales and Vitality Superleague club Celtic Dragons, who have a home fixture against Manchester Thunder at Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff this evening (Friday, 7pm).
There is no question Hoornweg is committed to the cause short-term – that passion comes through loud and clear during interviews – but the future beyond the end of this season is unclear.
When asked whether it’s time to change her title from Welsh interim coach to permanent coach, Hoornweg hesitated for the first time, saying: “It’s a long way from home.”
it wasn’t a no, but it would be positive for Wales if they could persuade Hoornweg, a hugely experienced and successful coach around the World, to commit for another year.
Hoornweg became Fiji national coach in 1997 before taking charge of England three years later.
She spent several successful seasons with Melbourne Vixens, leading the franchise to a league title and two grand finals in Australia and New Zealand’s elite competition.
Hoornweg also worked as inaugural head coach of new Auckland-based Northern Stars.
The straight-talking Aussie coach has asked a lot of her Welsh players and has been thrilled by the response.
“I love the way they go about their work and support each other,” says the Melbourne-born coach, whose biggest problem since arriving in Wales has been getting to grips with the words of the Welsh national anthem.
“It’s fantastic the way players help each other, blend their own strength.
“I am excited the players’ attitude. The more you push them the more they want to be pushed harder again.
“There is an absolute thirst within the group to be the best they can be.”
Wales produced powerful moments during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, winning the second quarter against New Zealand.
That was a first ever period triumph for Wales against the powerful Kiwis, while they also earned their best ever goals tally against New Zealand (44) and achieved the closest ever score margin against a titan of World netball.
Wales went down 77-44 and Hoornweg said: “We also had a 50-goals win against Fiji, which was amazing.
“Most teams are on a three or four year programme when they go into the Commonwealths, but we had a three-week programme!
“We introduced a new style of netball, aiming to ensure we were able to executive basic skills under pressure.
“Intensity in training has been excellent since I arrived. Training should, if anything, be even more intense than training.”
Celtic Dragons have gone with an all-Welsh team for their Superleague season, opting not to sign import players in a bid to help them prepare for international matches and competitions.
“This is an exciting group, full of exciting talent,” said Hoornweg. “Wales bat above average in being able to produce a World standard team. Australia have 100,000 players, while there are 50,000 in New Zealand and a huge amount in England.
“We should be excited about the future of netball in Wales. We were lucky that the group who went away to the Commonwealth Games was pretty close to the Dragons’ line-up.
“Our group stayed together. This players are working hard together and I can promise we will prepare to be winners.”
Wales missed out on qualifying for the World Cup, edged out by Northern Ireland and Scotland, but Hoornweg is aiming to ensure her players benefit when the World’s best teams come to the UK for the finals next July.
“I am talking to the Welsh netball high performance department about ensuring we arrange warm-up matches against leading teams,” she says. “Working with those teams will help Wales progress.”
The Hoornweg family run a goat farm in Victoria, running 300 Angora goats and a small number of cattle at Earlston, south-east of Shepparton.
Wales will hope their interim coach stays on and Hoornweg’s sheer enthusiasm suggests that is a possibility, but the pull from home, family and the goat farm is strong.
In other Superleague news, Severn Stars’ Head Coach, Sam Bird, says recovery will be key as to who comes out on top as they go into a double-header, in which they will play the same team twice in four days.
She said that the fixtures, which sees Stars play Surrey Storm at the University of Worcester Arena on Friday (May 25) and then away at Surrey Sports Park on the Bank Holiday Monday (May 28), present a great opportunity to not only secure six points but also a position in the top end of the Vitality Netball Superleague table.
Stars had been set to host Storm back in early March, but the snowy conditions put paid to that.
“We’re really up for these games,” said Bird. “Two matches against the same team in three days is unusual though for the teams and coaches.
“Recovery will be key for the second match away in Surrey. It’s a challenge preparing for a match against the same team in short succession as we have less time to review and examine the first performance.
“But I will be working overtime to push on for a second and stronger performance from our squad.”
Match tickets will be available on the door at Sport Wales National Centre, Cardiff.
Ticket holders can also come and see Wales under-17s v @thundernetball under-17s at 4.40pm.
Celtic Dragons fixtures and results
Monday 12: Celtic Dragons 49, benecosMavericks 61
Saturday 17: Celtic Dragons 35, Team Bath 54
Saturday 24: Loughborough Lightning 69, Celtic Dragons 45
Monday 26: Celtic Dragons 55, Surrey Storm 50
Saturday 3: Manchester Thunder v Celtic Dragons (postponed, rearranged for June 11, 7pm)
Saturday 10: Celtic Dragons 49, Severn Stars 40
Sunday 18: Wasps Netball 74, Celtic Dragons 32
Saturday 28: Celtic Dragons 51 Team Northumbria 56
Friday 4: Team Bath 66, Celtic Dragons 39
Monday 7: Surrey Storm 70, Celtic Dragons 42
Monday 14: Celtic Dragons 38, Loughborough Lightning 66
Saturday 19: benecosMavericks 68, Celtic Dragons 36
Friday 25: Celtic Dragons v Manchester Thunder, 7pm
Monday 28: UWS Sirens v Celtic Dragons, 7pm
Saturday 2: Team Northumbria v Celtic Dragons, 6pm
Saturday 9: Celtic Dragons v Wasps Netball, 4pm
Monday 11: Manchester Thunder v Celtic Dragons, (Wright Robinson College, 7pm)
Saturday 16: Celtic Dragons v UWS Sirens, 4pm
Monday 25: Severn Stars v Celtic Dragons, 7:30pm
Team Bath v Team Northumbria (7pm, live on Sky television)
Celtic Dragons v Manchester Thunder (7pm)
Saturday 26 UWS Sirens v Team Bath (2pm)
benecosMavericks v Team Northumbria (6pm)
Wasps v Loughborough Lightning (7pm)
Surrey Storm v Severn Stars (7pm)
VITALITY SUPERLEAGUE 2018