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Dublin: 24 °C Monday 22 July, 2019
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The twins leading national teams into their respective World Cups this summer

‘Being competitive, obviously we want to do the best that we can.’

IN JULY, ENGLAND netball coach Tracey Neville will lead her Commonwealth Games gold-winning Roses into the World Cup.

In June, her twin brother, Phil, brings his England soccer team to the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France.

Twins leading two national teams into two World Cups — surely that’s a first? 

phil tracey Phil and Tracey Neville.

Either way, it’s a pretty unique situation. And it’s all go for the Neville family. Summer 2019 isn’t one they’ll forget anytime soon.

Tracey is in Dublin for Liberty Insurance’s Women in Sport: The Coaching Effect event, and while, of course, the spotlight is on her and her outstanding coaching exploits, she mentions her brothers — former Manchester United duo Phil and Gary — several times. 

She said it last year after master-minding England’s Roses to a stunning Commonwealth Games gold medal, dramatically beating hosts Australia 52-51 in the final: people usually ask her about her brothers.

While the roles have reversed since, she’s more than happy to share a few stories from their childhood and the fierce competitiveness among the siblings.

Likewise, she tells of the support shared now. And how important family life is, and was for the siblings, their mother Jill and their late father Neville.

“The major thing  is about surrounding yourself with strong personalities,” she tells The42. “The way you migrate into social settings, you can deal with male and female counterparts. I think that’s really crucial for development within sport.

“The support system coming through from your family is absolutely instrumental, having that real honesty. In a family, you’re very honest, you trust a lot, you have to be like that coming through. 

“It does instill as well a very competitive environment; an environment that wants to succeed but also an environment that when you fail, you’ve got to get back on that horse.”

Her upbringing was a fond one. She refers to how the biggest dropout in women’s sport is between 16 and 19 as other interests take over. But no, that was never the case for her. Neville was supported and encouraged to no ends by those around her. 

That’s still seen even now, through a role model very very close to her.

2018 Commonwealth Games - Day Eleven Neville after her side won gold. Source: Martin Rickett

“My Mum still goes out and plays netball three times a week,” she smiles. “She talks like she’s Helen Housby who scored that winning goal at the Commonwealth Games. That’s how she talks to me about netball.

“Obviously I laugh but it’s a reality. That feeling for my Mum to go out on a Monday night in a local league and get Player of the Match is probably that same feeling as Helen Housby when she scored that winning goal. It really brings you back down to earth.”

That Monday night feeling will perhaps be replaced by the best one yet as Jill Neville witnesses her son and daughter lead their respective England teams into World Cups this summer. 

Ex-England shooter Tracey was appointed head coach to the country’s netballers in 2015, replacing Anna Mayes on an interim basis before taking the full-time job.

Likewise, Phil took over from Mark Sampson after turbulent times in January 2018; and when the unique situation of twins leading two World Cup teams this summer is put to Tracey, she thinks of the difficulties and challenges first.

“We’ve definitely not took the easy route into our coaching,” she says. “We’ve both come in under very challenging circumstances with our previous counterparts being removed from the role.

“But it’s about creating your own journey. He obviously has a tough World Cup and I follow suit with our World Cup. Being competitive, obviously we want to do the best that we can. But from my point of view, if he succeeds then we all succeed as a family.”

It’s been a whirlwind journey for Neville. In her teenage years, she started playing netball at county level and everything pretty much went from there. A Superleague star with Leeds Met Carnegie, she first represented England in 1993 and shone at the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games.

A serious knee injury forced her retire with 81 caps in 2008 and while she had been doing bits and pieces of coaching already, she fully took the plunge then and has dedicated her life to netball — and raising its profile — ever since.

Tracey Neville  Commonwealth Games In action in 2002. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

She was fortunate, she says. There were barriers that were knocked down for her.

Even how she first got into coaching is quite interesting, actually. 

“One of my coaches, Marion Lofthouse — who probably became one of my greatest mentors as an athlete and a coach — she basically made me do my level badges,” she laughs now.

“At the time, I didn’t want to be a coach, I wanted to be an athlete.”

It was two-fold. Not only did she earn her badges and gain valuable experience, it also paid her way through sport. Coaching was a viable option to financially support herself while she played.

Afterwards, things were different however.

“When it came to ending my career it was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d had 14 years in netball, I was probably burnt out a little bit. It gave me an option though.”

She grew to really love it, it must be said. 

Her first taste of Superleague coaching was with Team Northumbria in 2011, before taking the reins as director of netball at Manchester Thunder nine months later.

There, she really flourished and grew in confidence. Then came the big break, that Roses appointment in 2015.

“A momentous occasion was when I stepped into the national job,” she recalls.

“I was coaching the best athletes in the world, these athletes were world-class and they had an expectation. They had been coached by some of the best coaches out in Australia and New Zealand. 

“When you go into there, you think that you can’t make mistakes. You can’t ask for help or support. I lost a little bit of myself. I lost a little bit of my character, my personality.”

She explains how she brought a fellow coach and good friend in from New Zealand to assess her environment and offer some feedback when she was struggling early on.

Netball - 2015 Netball World Cup - Bronze Medal Match - England v Jamaica - Allphones Arena England won bronze at the 2015 World Cup. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“The Tracey Neville that I know laughs a lot, she’s loud, she talks; I didn’t see any of that within those two hours,” she was told after the session. “Your technical application of the session was good but the bit that’s going to get you through is your character. That’ll sustain you in this role.”

Character, personality and sense of self can be taken away through failing, through criticism and through lacking confidence in one’s ability. That feedback has stuck with Neville though, and it’s something she thinks of every single day.

“Bring character, personality, vulnerability,” she beams. “When people see that, I become a person to them and not a coach.”

The highs and lows, ups and downs, peaks and troughs are all part of it; but Neville wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

Particularly after last year’s historic Commonwealth Games victory.

“You say about the journey you’ve been on and was it smooth? Of course not,” she continues. “A steeplechase — you don’t get around a race course without going over a few hurdles to get to the final result. That’s exactly how it is in netball. 

“As a coach, in three years it’s been a very hard journey and there’s aspects of it I’ve not been able to enjoy.”

But the aspects that she has been able to enjoy certainly outweigh the others. The 2018 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards spring to mind where the Roses scooped both the Team of the Year and Greatest Sporting Moment awards.

The latter was particularly sweet as it came down to a public vote.

“It was a way that we could embrace and enjoy winning,” Neville reflects. 

“There’s such fine margins to winning — we won by one goal. I’m not under any apprehension that that could have been a turning point or a turnaround for us.

Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards 2018 - The News Building At the awards with her players. Source: Steven Paston

“Enjoying the winning was really crucial in my development, and enabled me to sustain, to keep going forward and pushing to the World Cup.”

She stresses time and time again to her players to enjoy the moment. You never know how the next match is going to go after all.

As we exchange our final words, a certain dual star and doctor from Armagh comes up in conversation.

“Caroline O’Hanlon,” Neville interjects before the name could leave this writer’s lips.

“She’s an athlete that people aspire to be. We have such great role models,” and she continues to list out several of her own players, and others, that inspire her.

She’s not a bad role model herself, Tracey Neville.

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Emma Duffy

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