NETBALL: Fatigue takes its toll on brave Northern Ireland

Nortehrn Ireland's Niamh Cooper in action with South Africa's Izette Lubbe
Nortehrn Ireland's Niamh Cooper in action with South Africa's Izette Lubbe

Fatigue finally caught up with Northern Ireland’s heroic efforts to made it a day of double delight in the European Open at Antrim Forum.

The effort expended in securing an impressive victory over Scotland in the morning naturally took its toll late in the day against the world’s sixth best side South Africa.

Elaine Rice’s side fought fearlessly against illustrious opponents playing their first game of the day and had the audacity to go in front at 25-24 just before half-time.

But with the coach having to make more adjustments than normal due to the heavy workload, the Proteas pulled clear in the third quarter and went on to win 57-47.

Earlier in the day, Northern Ireland had an emphatic triumph against the Scots, the team which had denied them qualification for this summer’s World Cup with an agonising 45-44 win in Cardiff.

Since then the girls in green had exacted revenge by beating the Commonwealth hosts at Glasgow 2014 so the thistle was keen to sting back in Antrim.

The lack of love lost between these sides was reflected in the physicality with Scotland typically spoiling for a fight but Rice’s crew resolutely refused to be bullied.

It was an incredibly close contest throughout the first half with the sides deadlocked at 9-9 after the opening period and then 17-17 at the long break.

But with Scotland increasingly lacking composure, Northern Ireland impressively pulled clear in the third quarter which they took 11-7 and, driven by an increasingly deafening din from a raucous capacity crowd, never looked back.

At one stage the hosts were 11 up and comfortably finished off a 40-31 win which Rice admitted was an invaluable boost after being denied in the draw with Wales on Thursday afternoon.

Unlike against Wales, Northern Ireland had the superior shooting stats in the Scottish clash on a morning when the eldest two of the squad’s three Bowman sisters scored all 40 goals between them.

Senior sibling Lisa led the way with 32 goals from 35 attempts while Kyla converted eight of her 11 chances with the Scots nailing 30 of their 41 shots.

Michelle Drayne had forced her way into the starting side against Scotland after impressing off the bench in the opening game and Rice kept the same seven throughout the contest.

The inclusion of Drayne at goal defence meant Northern Ireland’s front five were from Premier League champions Larkfield, supplemented by captain Gemma Gibney and Fionnuala Toner in the defensive circle.

DAY 2 RESULTS: Northern Ireland 40 Scotland 31, Wales 53 Trinidad&Tobago 46, England 60 Scotland 16, Northern Ireland 47 Scotland 57.