GMS Exclusive: Jess Thirlby to replace Tracey Neville as England Netball head coach

Team Bath v Surrey Storm - Vitality Netball Superleague

Jess Thirlby announced to replace Tracey Neville as England Netball head coach

The announcement comes just five days after the Vitality England Roses took bronze at the Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool.

Neville revealed ahead of the netball World Cup in Liverpool that she would be taking a break from her position to start a family.

Her departure comes following a four-year stint in charge of the Roses programme. 

Under her command, England's national side went on to win historic gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 and reached a record-breaking second place, in the International Netball Federation rankings.

Neville's successor, Thirlby, who stepped down from her role as head coach Team Bath Netball at the end of the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague season, will be hoping to continue the string of successes the Roses have come to enjoy in recent years.

The 39-year-old boasts impressive netballing credentials.

With sixteen years as an elite netballer, playing alongside Neville, Tamsin Greenway and Pamela Cookey, and fifteen years as a netball coach nurturing the likes of Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown, Thirlby undoubtedly knows netball inside and out. 

Naomi Campbell supports Girls In Sport 
A familiar face in Women's County Cricket 
Tatiana Calderon discusses FIA Formula 2  

She is also well acquainted with the England set-up. Thirlby has previously held the potion of England U21 Head and Assistant Coach during two World Youth Cups (Cook Islands 2009 and Glasgow 2013) and has worked both as an Assistant and Technical Coach with the senior England team (2013-15).

With experience aplenty, there will be notable tests on the horizon for new head coach Thirlby.

The most pressing of which will be the look of the squad come the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The Vitality Roses went into the World Cup with one of the oldest squads; the average age was 29. It was a team stacked with experience and caps. Gold on home soil in Liverpool was pinpointed as the climax of Neville's stint in the programme.

But with regulars such as Geva Mentor, Jade Clarke and Rachel Dunn all heading into their mid-thirties this year the chances of these Roses featuring in 2022 feels unlikely.

The question that now remains is whether how adequately the Roses have prepared for the stack of inevitable retirements that are coming.

Thirlby, however, does not seem daunted by the prospect but rather excited at the opportunity that lies ahead.

"I anticipate there may be some changes to what the player profile will look like of the team moving forward." 

Vitality Netball World Cup - Day Ten

"But I'm also confident that we've just finished a World Cup wherein many top nations you've seen people performing at their best at what everyone considers to be the end of their career. Hopefully, given how successful the last few of years have been there may be a few players that are tempted to stay on board," said the new England Netball coach reflecting on the World Cup.

"I'm also really excited at the talent that's already had the opportunity over the last couple of years to start coming through the ranks."

"I'm really looking forward to the fusion of what could be some senior players staying on board, which would be really positive, some that may need a break and might return, but in the meantime it's going to be about investing all our energy in developing that talent that we're already accustomed to internally, but it's about making them the next household names."

Looking ahead to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Thirlby alluded to the changing landscape of international netball, particularly the rise of the African nations at this year's netball World Cup.

But despite being only 48 hours into the role, Thirlby was clear on her strategy going forward.

"I'm under no illusion as to the task that lays ahead to make sure that we've got a squad that arrive in Birmingham ready."

"The next 12 to 18 months have to focus on how can I accelerate the development of, and prepare, the next layer of players to combine with those players a year or two out from the next major competition and I'm pretty confident and my ability and the ability of the Roses programme to put to together an international programme to expose the players to the competition they need, so that they aren't naïve to come 2022." 

Another obstacle for England Netball and one that Thirlby will have to grapple with in her new position relates to funding and resources. 

Vitality Netball World Cup - Day Nine

Sport England had looked to end it's funding into netball in 2019 but CEO Joanna Adams was on hand to paint a far more positive picture for the sport and the Roses programme that Thirlby will take on.

"We were meant to now be broke but we weren't because Sport England came back and said ‘no the success and everything that you're doing, we'll fund you again through to 2021'."

"We're starting to make enough money now that we can support the Roses programme, which is fantastic. That's where we've always wanted it to be. We've always wanted that programme to be commercially sustainable so 2021 we're secured and post 2021 we're practically there with the money that we've brought in."

As the start of the next four-year cycle begins the netball world will watch with bated breath as to how Thirlby grows into the role and what she can do to shape the Roses of the future. England Netball head coach is now a position with pressure attached but it's not a pressure Thirlby yet feels.

"I think this is a fantastically unique position and to come into a program that's achieving success rather than coming into the firefight, which in the sport we know is often the case, you come in because someone has been ousted or because the team aren't performing and this isn't the case.'

"I recognize and am truly honoured that England Netball has put their faith in me to take on this pivotal role within the England programme and can't wait to get stuck in.'

News Now - Sport News