Getting To Know: Fi Toner
As she prepares for her first season with Leeds Rhinos Netball, we caught up with Northern Ireland international Fi Toner about how pre-season is going and her experience of representing the Vitality Netball Superleague Allstars.
Tell me a bit about how you got into netball and your rise through the Northern Irish system?
I started playing netball when I went to secondary school and first got into Norther Ireland regional team at 14. Following this I was on the Northern Ireland U17 team at 15 going to the Europeans for two years. I spent a year playing basketball when I was 18 in America and when I returned, I joined the senior team at 19, so overall about 11 years in the senior netball team playing at two World Cups and two Commonwealth Games which have been incredible experiences.
What was it like coming over and playing Superleague Netball?
Really good! There were six of us from Northern Ireland who went across along with our coach at the time for NI, as there was a partnership with Northumbria at the time. We travelled over on a weekly basis for training and matches, so it was nice to be exposed to Superleague with familiar faces, and taste that high level of netball in England together. It has all progressed from there with myself and Caroline O’Hanlon still playing in the league along with a few of younger NI girls playing down in Surrey and with London Pulse. It is great six years on to still have six players playing in the league this year.
What were your experiences like playing for London Pulse and Bath?
Pretty different experiences so with London Pulse it was their first time in the league, like Leeds with there being a mixed team of different backgrounds and personalities with a New Zealand head coach. A difficult year results wise but it was good to build the team from the ground up.
Team Bath was a short experience due to the pandemic but was a good experience, to play with an established Superleague team and coached under Anna Stembridge and play with Kim Commane and Rachael Shaw was great to learn off and work with them day in day out. Although cut short in March, it was a good 4-5 months.
You’ve also played with your sister what is that like?
We played together at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, as we are two years apart we never really got the chance before that year. It is nice to have a familiar face on court and in the team room. We play at different ends of the court, so that helps with getting on!
You were selected for the All Stars team to play England, what was that honour like and how did you find out you were selected?
It has been a whirlwind two weeks after Jamaica could not travel to the UK. I found out from Dan Ryan, the Leeds Rhino Head Coach. We then all came together at the start of the week with a lot of COVID testing and periods of isolation. A disappointing result in the first test, but with a group of players coming from a range of different clubs and playing styles, only two days together to put up a performance against a team who have been in camp for two weeks was always going to be challenging. Hopefully, we can finish the series strong.
What was your World Cup experiences like?
Back in 2011 it was a shock to us all that we had qualified as two years previous we had been 19th in the world. To go into that world cup atmosphere in Singapore with world class players around you it was great. We also had a good tournament finishing eighth which was very much unexpected for us and springboarded us forward to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games. For the second World Cup in Liverpool under a new head coach, it was more of a rebuilding year after losing a few key players. However, playing against full time Australian pros like Caitlin Bassett and Kelsey Brown was an incredible experience, just seeing the quickness and strength of these top athletes was incredible.
How have you settled into the Leeds Rhinos squad, are you excited for the season ahead?
My Northern Irelnd coach Dan Ryan is head coach and Michelle Magee is there from home, so it is nice going into a new franchise and having a few familiar faces there. We had a good 11-week preseason before Christmas where we trained five days a week, so we see each other an awful lot which has helped build the team culture and camaraderie. I am really looking forward to getting back in there, now the girls are back after the test series.
With lots of young up and coming talent, I think our main aim is experience, our average age is only about 23. And these players will only be the future of England Netball, so it is great myself, Jade and Madie as the experienced heads can help bring a good mix.
What do you do outside of netball?
I am a Chartered Accountant for Deloitte in the Dublin office and have been with them for six years. I do this full time and with COVID this has meant I can be in Leeds a lot more. Through juggling both, it can get busy at times but the release of shutting off the laptop and going to netball has provided a good balance.