England are going for gold in the 12th Netball World Championships this month. As Simon Rushworth discovers, their tactics were honed in South Tyneside.
DENISE Egan loves to tell the tale of how, as a young girl growing up on the streets of 1960s South Shields, she felt obliged to steal coal to keep the family fire alight.
More than 40 years on and there is only one thing burning in Egan’s eyes – an ambition to bring home netball’s biggest prize and fulfil a lifetime’s dream.
This weekend, the Team Northumbria head coach, in her role as number two to England manager Marg Caldow, flies out to New Zealand to begin what she hopes will be the defining journey in a life dedicated to sport.
Egan was part of the backroom staff which celebrated a famous win against the Kiwis this summer and expectations are high ahead of the 2007 Netball World Championships.
“Beating New Zealand for the first time in 32 years has worked well for the team,” she said. “It’s given them the belief they might have lacked against the bigger sides in the past. We’re going down there knowing that we are in the running and that win was a huge confidence boost.
“The only top-five team we have lost to in the build-up to the World Championships is Australia, so it stands to reason we have a chance. If things go to plan we’ll meet the Aussies in the semi-final and that is our only target right now.
“We’ve just had a pre-competition camp where we played seven games in seven days and looked at recovery times and fitness issues. We have a clear week in New Zealand before the first game against Barbados.
“I’ve been to World Championships before and came away with a bronze medal as a coach. But if we can make the gold medal match in New Zealand then, of course, it will be the pinnacle of my career.
“It’s one of your dreams when you’re involved in any sport to win at the very highest level.”
Not that Egan has time to dream. Due to netball’s status as a non-Olympic discipline, funding for the sport has been slashed in recent years.
The reigning Sport Newcastle Coach of the Year is employed on a part-time basis by England Netball. A full-time games teacher at Sunderland’s St Anthony’s RC school, she also heads up a Team Northumbria Netball Super League franchise tipped for title honours in 2008.
“I wouldn’t be going to the World Championships without the support of my head teacher and the staff at St Anthony’s,” said Egan.
“They’ve known about New Zealand for some time although the event was originally scheduled for Fiji at a different time of the year, so that caused everyone a few headaches.
“It’s not ideal for Team Northumbria either. I’m away for four weeks and will miss two Super League games. But I like to think the experience of New Zealand will benefit both St Anthony’s and TN in the long term.”
Egan is highly regarded within England Netball circles but her staunch views and steadfast opinions haven’t always curried favour with the game’s hierarchy. “I’m not a so-called ‘yes-man’ but that’s not want Marg wants or needs,” she added.
“I am involved in the selection process and, although Marg always has the final say, I do make my opinions known. I’ve always been that way.
“But I call myself Polyfilla when I’m on England duty. I try to fill all the gaps.
“If things aren’t happening or not working for one reason or another, then I try to find a solution.
“I liaise closely with all the support staff and try to make sure everyone is happy. I don’t like to leave anything to chance.”
Anything less than an appearance in the gold medal match on November 17 will further weaken England Netball’s position in a nation fully focused on developing 2012 talent.
The pressure is on but the TN tactician sees the World Championships as an opportunity to begin an exciting new era for her sport.