This weekend saw women’s youth sport boosted into the limelight with impressive performances by both the U16 football national squad and the U17 netball national squad.
Both achieved runners-up spots in their respective competitions.
In football the U16 team came second in an official UEFA development tournament held in Malta. In netball the U17s took a runners up spot in the Netball Europe U17 challenge cup hosted in Gibraltar, just missing out on promotion to play in the same division as the likes of England.
Surprisingly both had started their tournaments with little expectations of getting beyond the mid-table.
In football, following their defeat at the hands of favourites Malta, even those who knew the team well did not believe they could get a result except against the lowest-ranked side Andorra.
In netball, a similar scenario existed with the girls expected to win against visitors Malta but not expected to get a result against Switzerland, Isle of Man, or Ireland, all three described as “very strong opponents.”
The young women were to prove forecasts wrong.
Gritty, determined performances across the board delivered some surprises as Gibraltar’s female players proved they were more than willing to challenge for pole position in both football and netball.
After a convincing start against Malta, Gibraltar’s netballers surprised everyone by coming out in the lead in three of the four quarters against favourites Switzerland. They were to falter in the end and faced a narrow seven point defeat.
It was their first and last defeat in the tournament, similar to the young ladies in the international football tournament.
In both tournaments a feisty, well-disciplined display left many with a feeling of confidence that the teams could outperform forecasts.
In netball the young ladies had been the only team who really challenged the eventual champions Switzerland. An impressive display against the Isle of Man the next day delivered a well deserved victory.
Having already beaten Malta, and with Ireland losing against the Isle of Man Gibraltar had carved a route to challenge for the trophy and possible promotion.
Their performance led to some netball officials describe the young ladies “as having played like Gibraltarian girls”.
The remark referred to the reputation Gibraltar had gained in recent years of being battlers on the court who fought for every point throughout a match even when behind on the score to overturn matches, just as the senior side had done in Hong Kong a few days earlier.
The netballers had entered the match as their football counterparts claimed second place in the UEFA Development Tournament.
Having won against Albania days earlier, they surprised many by now being in with a chance for second place against Andorra. A mere draw was enough to claim the runner up spot after Albania lost against the hosts to leave the doors open for Gibraltar.
Gibraltar’s selection for the day was not it is strongest team throughout the match as selectors had to ensure all players played in the tournament.
This did not prevent Gibraltar from scoring and going into the lead by halftime. In the second half they were to concede an equaliser but kept their heads to take the draw to the end to secure their second place in the group.
Gibraltar had only lost against Malta the tournament champions, who had gone unbeaten throughout.
Gibraltar’s U16’s success in football only added further pressure on the netballers to succeed as “the positive feelgood” factor kicked in across the sports scene.
The young Campions were not to disappoint. They entered Sunday’s match knowing that they could no longer challenge for the top spot after Switzerland had claimed the trophy by beating the Isle of Man.
Switzerland’s win had left the doors wide open for an easier path to second place, although not exactly what they had wanted.
Gibraltar could actually lose the match and still come second due to a somewhat complex way of calculating the points.
This was, however, not enough. The young Campions even though they went behind early on put in a high tempo battling display which kept the pressure on Ireland throughout.
The nerves in front of a home crowd did not aid their fightback as Ireland took advantage to maintain their lead throughout most of the match.
Gibraltar faced a tough opponent who were very much on par with them and wanted to end the tournament with their second won. Yet, even with the points going away from them in the latter stages, Gibraltar produced a gritty display which had even Netball Europe officials praising their efforts as they clinched a draw in the final seconds.
Gibraltar had to wait a few minutes after finishing their match at 32-32 to find out of they had secured second place.
The successes of both youth teams brought about a flurry of congratulations and praises across social media networks including MPs, ministers and even the Chief Minister.
The young ladies, on a weekend which had started with the celebration of international women’s day, had brought success “beyond expectations”.
Months of training had paid off for them.
Importantly, with both squads playing with players who were 13, 14 even 15 year of age, the future bodes well for them.