The real business begins on Saturday for Northern Ireland after yesterday’s predictable defeat by England in the opening game of netball’s European Championships.
Northern Ireland lost 83-32 to the northern hemisphere heavyweights after sacrificing respectability on the scoreboard to prioritise more meaningful matches ahead.
Their clashes with Wales and Scotland over the weekend in Newcastle will determine whether the girls in green can finish as runners-up to the hosts, holders and hot favourites.
Northern Ireland’s priorities were evident yesterday when coach Julie Kimber withdrew her five biggest names for the final quarter of the English game.
Captain Gemma Gibney, vice-captain Neamh Woods, defender Fionnuala Toner, centre Caroline O’Hanlon and forward Kyla Bowman all came off at the last interval. Unsurprisingly Northern Ireland’s unfamiliar line-up proved lambs to the slaughter as England ran away with that humbling last quarter 27-4.
But the embarrassing scoreline from those excruciating final 15 minutes will quickly be forgotten if Kimber’s side beat Wales this afternoon and the Scots tomorrow.
Gibney’s girls led 7-6 but the English response was ruthless, scoring all but one of the remaining 13 goals before the first break.
They extended their half-time lead to 40-17 and Kimber made her first changes going into the third period.
Her starting seven had been along predictable lines with the Bowman sisters paired up front, Gibney partnered by Toner in the back circle and O’Hanlon flanked by Woods and Michelle Drayne in mid-court. With England also making changes, Northern Ireland began and finished strongly in only losing the penultimate quarter 16-11 before predictable carnage ensued in the last.
Drayne, now at wing defence, and gJenna Bowman returned to the court with the experienced Deborah McCarthy brought on at the back. She was partnered by rookie Rachael Morton while Larkfield Seconds player Kirsty McCammon came in at wing attack with Montgomery moving forward.
If the girls in green can do the double over their celtic cousins, they will emulate the runners-up place achieved last time the Euros. That triumph remains the only time in the tournament that NI have secured EuroChampionships silver medals.
NORTHERN IRELAND: G Gibney (capt), F Toner, N Woods, C O’Hanlon, M Drayne, K Bowman, J Bowman. Subs (all used): N Cooper, S Montgomery, D McCarthy, R Morton, K McCammon.