Northern Ireland’s leading ladies emphatically proved their worth in coming through a baptism of fire on the opening night of a new British SuperLeague campaign.
Going to champions Team Bath for their first fixture in the colours of last season’s strugglers Team Northumbria was a case of in at the deep end for the local contingent.
Four Ulsterwomen were making their SuperLeague debut and Noleen Lennon returning eight years after her previous season in the Northumbria ranks.
But the newcomers were at the heart of an uplifting fightback by Northumbria, who drew the second half 29-29 with no fewer than five Northern Ireland internationals on the court for the last two quarters.
The prolific Lennon took over the captaincy when Northern Ireland colleague Oonagh McCullough came on to partner her up front in place of Darcie Worsdale.
Young Northern Ireland defenders Fionnuala Toner and Niamh Cooper were paired together at the back, the latter being brought on at the expense of new Aussie signing Georgia Beaton.
Toner was switched from wing defence to goal defence while the experienced Caroline O’Hanlon played the entire game in the pivotal position of centre and likewise Lennon as chief shooter.
Unfancied underdogs Northumbria began brightly, taking the lead three times early on, but Bath hit their stride in surging away to an ominous 30-16 lead after the second period.
However a rejuvenated Northumbria bounced back to take the third quarter 16-12 and ultimately lost on what was a perfectly respectable scoreline of 59-45 in the circumstances.
“It was a promising performance considering the number of SuperLeague debutants in this team’s first competitive match,” reflected O’Hanlon.
“Having to start against the champions in their own backyard was a test of character and we came through that quite well with strong team spirit and some pleasing passages of play.”
“Our training time together has been fairly limited with the squad being split between bases in Newcastle and Northern Ireland, though we beat Scotland in a warm-up match last weekend.
“However in spite of the highly pressurised environment the new combinations began gelling quite quickly and we can take great encouragement into next weekend’s double-header.
“Being critical, there were too many unforced errors and those get punished brutally at this level but being realistic it takes time to get used to each other’s movements and styles.
“There’s plenty to work on but there will undoubtedly be benefits for Northern Ireland of our players being exposed to these tough competitive matches every week.
“This is the elite league in the northern hemisphere and, with only eight teams, it is high intensity netball so we’ve a great opportunity to learn and develop in the coming months,” she enthused.