Netball: An old score to settle
Veteran netball player Premila Hirubalan is a ferocious competitor on the court, and a confident character off it.
But, amid the excitement that surrounds the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games here next month and the optimism of a gold for netball, the 32-year-old was pensive when she spoke to The New Paper recently.
A painful memory sticks in her head. In 2001, the only other time the sport has featured in the biennial multi-sports meet, Singapore lost to Malaysia 53-42 in the final.
She is the only surviving member of the 2001 class in this year’s SEA Games team.
History, she vows, will not repeat itself.
Hirubalan said: “2001 was a very big year for netball — there was the Singapore-Malaysia Cup, the Asian Netball Championships and the SEA Games, and there was big hype surrounding the sport.
“Singapore-Malaysia games at that time were close — we would win one and they would beat us the next time. I remember that we beat them quite comfortably in the earlier rounds in that SEA Games, and we were very confident and gung ho going into the final.
“But Malaysia beat us in the final by quite a bit, and that still haunts me.”
The team also suffered another heart-breaking loss just two months before the SEA Games that year — they reached the Asian Netball Championships final, but narrowly lost to defending champions and hosts Sri Lanka 55-54.
Hirubalan has already exorcised one demon with Singapore’s dramatic 48-47 victory against the same opponents in Sri Lanka in 2012 to clinch their second Asian title, after 2005.
They also successfully defended their crown at the OCBC Arena last year.
But the bitter memory of the 2001 SEA Games final defeat is one that the wing defence/goalkeeper is keen to banish at the SEA Games.
The medical doctor said: “The SEA Games is something special, it’s something all Singaporeans recognise, it’s in Singapore this year and people know we can perform at this Games.
“There’s a lot of pressure on us, but a lot of excitement as well.”
Malaysia are again Singapore’s main foe for the gold medal, but they have not beaten the Republic in an international test match since 2003.
Add to that Singapore’s successful defence of their Asian crown and a very credible second-place finish in the Nations Cup last year, and one is tempted to think that the gold is as good as theirs.
But Hirubalan knows better, and has warned her teammates against slacking off. S
he said: “We work with a Sports Singapore psychologist and during one session I told the team what happened in 2001 and how I could still feel the sheer disappointment of that defeat.
“I wouldn’t want us to experience this disappointment again, and this time we will give it all we’ve got.
“I don’t think we are over-confident, but the girls are quietly confident, and you’d need that to play the game.”