Hannah Irvine has recovered from a hamstring strain in time to take her place in Northern Ireland’s line-up for Friday’s international friendly against Australia in Bath.
The Graduates captain’s work ethic, experience and steadying influence will be valuable assets against the world champions, who are warming up for their Test series against England.
With defender Fionnuala Toner unavailable due to the game clashing with an accountancy exam at Queen’s, coach Jill McIntosh will revert to the line-up that brought such success under her last year.
She is set to field the starting seven which claimed historic silver medals at May’s European Championships and pushed South Africa all the way in the third Test in Cape Town two months later.
Captain Gemma Gibney and Graduates clubmate Frances Campbell will link up in the defensive circle, with Larkfield duo Michelle Drayne and world-class centre Caroline O’Hanlon immediately in front of them.
At last month’s World Premier Club Challenge in Glasgow, O’Hanlon formed a very effective attacking unit with wing attack Irvine, NI’s most improved player Oonagh McCullough and star shooter Noleen Lennon.
Although Northern Ireland won’t win on Friday, it is hoped they will attempt to play positively against McIntosh’s native country, who she coached to two World Cup triumphs late last century.
To maximise court-time for players from both squads, McIntosh and opposite number Lisa Alexander have agreed a training game format with six periods of 12 minutes each rather than the standard four 15 minute quarters.
In Northern Ireland’s case that will mean the likes of teenage shooter Jenna Bowman and newcomer Nardia Masters, the Laganside defender of Jamaican extraction, getting a chance to show what they can do at this level.
However with so few fixtures scheduled for Northern Ireland, it is important to concentrate on giving the top team a decent run together at the start of a crucial year in which Commonwealth Games qualification is at stake.
NORTHERN IRELAND (probable): G Gibney (capt), F Campbell, M Drayne, C O’Hanlon, H Irvine, O McCullough, N Lennon. Subs – C Wilson, N Masters, L McCaffrey, C McLean, J Bowman.