Netball: 'We can retain Asian crown'

Netball: 'We can retain Asian crown'
Singapore netball player, Premila Hirubalan, a medical officer in the Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Department of Anaesthesiology.

She puts people to sleep for a living now, but netball stalwart Premila Hirubalan is about to set pulses racing on the court again.

The 32-year-old defender, a medical officer in the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) Department of Anaesthesiology, will be the most experienced Singapore player when the Republic defend their Mission Foods Asian Netball Championships title at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena from Sunday.

And she strongly believes that the team, youthful compared to the victorious 2012 squad, will retain the title on Sept 14.

Premila said, laughing: "Is it very boastful) to say that I think we can win?

"I honestly feel that with the team we have this year, and the training tour we had in Fiji, we have a very strong chance of winning, although you'd never know for sure in tournaments."

The 1.70m-tall player, who rates 2012 finalists Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Hong Kong as Singapore's main rivals in this year's tournament, had not expected to return to the national squad, after the last-gasp Asian Championships victory over the hosts in Colombo.

"I've never been burnt out in netball, it was just that 2012 was a fantastic way to end (my national team career)," recalled the 85-capped player.

"I played in the Asian Champs in 2001 and we lost to Sri Lanka by a point, and even though I've played in other competitions since then, I would say that match was my most heartbreaking loss ever.

"To win the title in 2012 by one point in the last minute was something special, and I felt that it was a good way to end."

She graduated from medical school in Australia in December that year, and did a one-year internship in Victoria, hitting the gym only after work.

"I don't like to live without the gym, these gorgeous muscles will go away (otherwise)," she half-joked, eyeing her well-defined arms while lounging at the Singapore Sports Institute's gym earlier this week.

She returned to Singapore in February this year, and started work at SGH in end-March, and played for the Mission Mannas in the Netball Super League (NSL).

Premila recalled: "I was very scared; I messaged (Yeo) Mee Hong (Mannas coach and national assistant coach) before training with Mannas and said, 'My legs are old, I haven't trained for a year, please go easy on me'.

"But, in terms of ball skills and handling, I don't think I'd lose them, it was more of getting back in terms of fitness."

She didn't consider returning to the national squad, although national coach Ruth Aitken had approached her before.

"I was still seeing how I can cope - I just started at SGH, which was going to be a very different lifestyle than in Australia," said Premila.

But she settled down quickly, and the prospect of having no netball in her life after the NSL ended in May led the charismatic player to reconsider joining the national squad.

Aitken, according to Premila, has been very accommodating to her erratic schedule so far - she would be on call for 24 hours at times.

Aitken said: "She is a consummate professional, I trust her to be doing her own work-outs and she is straight up with what she can or cannot do.

"Our players may not be professionals, as they need to juggle day jobs, but she has a professional attitude."

While the 2012 team comprised largely of seasoned campaigners, the team this year are a mixture of youth and experience - captain Lin Qingyi and vice-captains Chen Huifen and Nurul Baizura are the other battle-hardened players.

Asked if she feels extra responsibility has been heaped on her sturdy shoulders, Premila said: "I always feel responsible when I play because you get the shot to be on the court and there are five players on the bench who are ready to take your spot if you don't perform.

"But, as a senior player, it's about how you can get the best out of your teammates - some I can shout at, while some I have to talk to them nicely."

Beyond the upcoming tournament, the good doctor is hoping for another first in her long stint in the national squad, which started when she was 17.

"I definitely want to get into the SEA (South-east Asia) Games next year (in Singapore).

"Netball featured in only one other Games in 2001, and we lost to Malaysia that year in the final, despite beating them in the semi-finals.

"The SEA Games gold medal is something I haven't won, and I would like to win it."

This article was first published on September 04, 2014.
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