New Magic coach keen to keep star players

New Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald admits to being ''fiercely competitive'', but also ''very much a players' coach''.

And with the speculation surrounding the whereabouts of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's key players for next season, the latter trait may prove crucial.

Yesterday the former NSW Swifts head coach and Australian Diamonds assistant was appointed to a two-year deal at the Magic, following the stepping down of longtime mentor Noeline Taurua.

She is the first foreigner to take charge of any ANZ Championship franchise and admits that coming up against the Swifts for the first time will stir the emotions.

''I'm sure intially there'll be some emotion attached to it but then as soon as the game begins I think that the competitive juices will come in,'' she said.

Fitzgerald coached the Swifts to a grand final victory over the Magic in the first year of the competition in 2008, but was then dumped after the 2011 season.

She then joined the Australian Institute of Sport as netball head coach, before last year taking up the Diamonds assistant role.

Her coaching stretches over 30 years and she was named Netball Australia Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2006.

Waikato-Bay of Plenty Netball Zone Board Chair John Wiltshire said Fitzgerald had big boots to fill but that he believes she is more than up for the challenge.

''In appointing Julie, we have a coach that has an outstanding background in coaching, a successful record to boot and a proven ability to work to not only develop talent but to build winning teams,'' he said.

''In addition, a significant part of Julie's role will be to lead the education and support of coaches and support people within the Zone's High Performance programme ensuring consistent messages are delivered to all representative coaches within the Centres that make up the Zone.  This is a new role and with Julie's experience and knowledge we are looking forward to her having a significant impact on the future development of netball in the Zone.''

Fitzgerald said she had always felt very welcome in New Zealand when she had visited and that she was looking forward to moving to Hamilton towards the end of the year.

''I feel quite honoured that Netball New Zealand and the Magic would trust me with one of their top teams,'' she said, adding she had enormous respect for the leagacy Taurua had left.

While Fitzgerald will no doubt bring a fresh approach, she is unsure yet as to whether that will mean increasing the team trainings from the two per week which has been the case.

It's a crucial factor because if she wants the team together for longer periods it's at the risk of losing Irene van Dyk, who, it's understood, wouldn't want to be up from Wellington for the couple of half days she has to be currently.

''Look, I'll have to get over there and I have to meet with the players, I have to work out what they've been doing in the past and how we might be able to enhance that in the future,'' Fitzgerald said. ''I don't think I'm quite in a position to say what I'm going to do one way or another.''

Fitzgerald is keen to keep the four Silver Ferns - van Dyk, Laura Langman, Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin - and said she will work out exactly what she had to do to retain them.

Three of the big four couldn't be contacted yesterday, however de Bruin said she is looking forward to meeting the new coach next week.

''I don't actually know her from a bar of soap.

''Just from walking past her and stuff, she's always friendly, and as far as I have heard she's a very nice person,'' de Bruin said, adding that she was glad the frustration of not knowing was over.

''I think in some ways it actually took a bit more out of us than we thought, because all these years it was just a given that it was Noels but nice to finally know that this is the definite announcement and the final choice.''

So does that mean de Bruin will be staying or going?

''I don't think it's the be all and end all, as long as she wants you in the team I suppose, that will be the first big thing. For me the most important thing is her training regime. You've got to be a bit smarter when you get older and it's just a matter of whether in her plans she will look after myself. Obviously training wise I don't really want to flog myself day in day out. So it will be interesting just to sit down and talk to her and see what she believes she can add or do to make me a better player.''

Waikato Times