Northern Ireland’s netballers have missed out on a place at next year’s World Cup in Australia after a heartbreaking weekend in Cardiff.
Agonisingly losing Friday night’s opening game 45-44 to Scotland left Kate Carpenter’s team facing an uphill task to secure one of the two tickets to Sydney.
This year’s European Championships doubled up as a regional qualifier for the 2015 World Cup, with the Republic of Ireland replacing England – already guaranteed a place due to their top four ranking.
The girls in green gave themselves a fighting chance going into Sunday’s showdown with Wales by hammering their southern neighbours 84-25 on Saturday.
That thumping victory combined with other results meant a one-goal win over the Welsh would have been enough though that was always likely to be a tough task in hostile surroundings.
Northern Ireland were also hit by injuries with regular goalkeeper Gemma Gibney not starting the game.
And captain Hannah Willis failing to finish it, resulting in an unfamiliar line-up.
With a partisan crowd behind them, Wales bounced back from an early deficit to lead 13-12 at the first break and were two up at half-time on a 25-23 scoreline.
As in the second quarter, Northern Ireland drew level at one stage in the third but from 30-30 finished the penultimate period 38-36.
They fell away slightly in the last as Wales pulled clear to win 51-43 to the delight of an ecstatic crowd whose team retained their European title in the process.
The small margins between glory and despair are underlined by the fact a two-goal win for Northern Ireland would have seen them crowned European champions for the first time ever.
That would have been a somewhat manufactured tag given England’s absence and in reality the most important prizes on offer at this tournament were those tickets to Sydney.
Although Northern Ireland will be at next month’s Commonwealth Games for the first time, not qualifying for next year’s World Cup is a disastrous setback for the sport in this country.
Under Carpenter’s predecessor Elaine Rice, the team memorably beat both Scotland and Wales in Glasgow to qualify for Singapore 2011 where they upset the odds to reach the quarter-finals.
This time the Welsh and Scots take the two European regional qualifying places with Northern Ireland left to lick their wounds on the sidelines.