Yee Chun Leong
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
OUTGOING national netball coach Thilaka Jinadasa is returning home to chase her dream of an INF (International Netball Federation) Netball World Cup appearance.
She had previously coached the Sri Lanka national team back in 2009, when they last won the Asian Netball Championships, but didn’t go to the World Cup two years later after choosing to come to Brunei.
The Sri Lankan will now depart her post after seven years to coach lead her country again.
Jinadasa, whose contract only ends after the 2019 SEA Games, had already planned to leave after the previous Asian Netball Championships in 2016 but stayed on an extra year because of the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur - where they successfully retained their bronze medal.
“My dream is to go to World Cup (with Sri Lanka). After the 2009 Asian Championships, I missed the world cup in 2011 because of politics and other problems back home and can here,” said Jinadasa in an interview with BruSports News last Wednesday.
“Now another opportunity has come after knowing of the vacancy for Sri Lanka national coach and this year the Asian Netball championships will be held in Singapore and serves as a qualifier for the World Cup.
“We have a chance to go and it will be for my career development as well,” she added.
Building up was the most difficult but the most satisfying
The 55-year-old has plenty of fond memories in Brunei and recalled how she started from scratch.
Assembling her first team to compete at the at the 8th Asian Netball Championships in Sri Lanka in 2012 was the biggest challenge for her.
Brunei eventually put up a strong showing in their debut to register one win, one draw and two losses in their group.
“When I first arrived, It was zero and BNA (Brunei Netball Association) was not as active like now,” Jinadasa reminisced.
“Initially, I only had 2-3 players but eventually built up to 20-30 players. We had zero support from anyone.
“No one believed in us because 10-15 years ago we were doing badly in the international arena,” she added.
“We had to break the mindset. Then we got some players who were committed and wanted to do it. We had some passionate players and we even did our own fund raising to get there.
“We did all the difficult part add I really cherish that. The 2012 team that went to Asian Championships from the ground up, I remember that it was the hardest part and I have a lot of good memories from that,” continued Jinadasa.
Proud to medal and more importantly put up a good showing
Jinadasa guided Brunei to a bronze medal finish at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore - the first ever medal won from the sport at the biennial Games.
They replicated that feat with another podium finish this year in Kuala Lumpur.
However, the Sri Lankan felt that it was not only about those achievements but was happy with the showing of her charges.
“Personally the best is not just about the bronze medal. I’m more performance oriented and want to have a good result,” explained Jinadasa.
“For Brunei that is a good achievement. I remember at the beginning, I was told it is difficult for team sports to survive and it was quite demoralising.
“But I came here with lots of challenges back home and I really wanted to prove it here to show what I’m capable of,” she added.
“The challenge is also that I had a lot of mature players aged 20-30 years old then but now we have a lot of younger ones.
“That was also one challenge to prove that these mature players can play in the international arena,” continued the former national vice captain of Sri Lanka.
Hoping to lead Sri Lanka back to glory
She has high hopes making her return home and already has her sights on winning the Asian Netball Championships to be contested in Singapore next year.
“I hope that we will win the Asian Championships again. We need to get back our lost pride,” she said.
“We have won the tournament four times in history and only twice we were third place while the other times we were runners-up.
“We need to make sure we play in the finals to guarantee a trip to the world cup,” she added.
“I know that we got talented players but the only thing is that they need guidance and discipline.
“I’ll be there to help with fitness and give morale. I’ve always been in contact and monitor them,” said Jinadasa, who has over 20 years of coaching experience.
Better team spirit needed moving forward
Jinadasa felt that the team spirit in the team needs to be improved for the team to be better.
“The team spirit needs to be better than this. It is not that it is not there but it just needs to be stronger," explained Jinadasa.
“It is not only about coming to training everyday. But the right attitude needs to be there.
“Every game we will have seven on the court and five others will be on the bench.
“Players need to understand that. I wasn’t here just to make an individual happy but the country.
“When it comes to the team, there is no ‘I’. There is only ‘we’ as no one really remembers the individuals but will remember that the country won," added the Sri Lankan.
She also said that Brunei requires more competitive games to move up another step.
“We need to go out more to prepare for international tournament. Exposure is very important.
“We need at least 3-4 exposure series at a competitive level before each tournament," she added.
Thankful for the support
“I want to thank the BNA and Datin (Paduka Hjh Intan binti Hj Kasim) for believing in me. The other management kept changing but she was there for the last 7 years," said Jinadasa.
“She is a good guide. Whenever I felt lost, she comes out to support us.
“I would also like to thank HRH Princess Fadzilah (Lubabul Bolkiah) for helping us and giving support as well as Sabariah for stepping up as the team manager over the past couple of years," she added.
She then went on to thank HRH Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah (President of Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council), head and staff of the Coaching Unit as well as JBS (Department of Youth and Sports) for the support.