NETBALL: Gaelic county captains set aside rivalry for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Ladies Netball players (from left) Tyrone's Neamh Woods, Down's Laura Mason and Armagh's Caroline O'Hanlon.
Northern Ireland Ladies Netball players (from left) Tyrone's Neamh Woods, Down's Laura Mason and Armagh's Caroline O'Hanlon.

Three ladies gaelic county captains have set aside their football field rivalry to join forces for Northern Ireland at netball’s Nations Cup this week.

Armagh’s Caroline O’Hanlon, Tyrone’s Neamh Woods and Down’s Laura Mason skippered their respective counties in this summer’s All Ireland Senior Championship.

But now the multi-talented trio are united in their country’s cause as the girls in green chase some pre-Christmas silverware in Singapore.

Northern Ireland are favourites to lift the trophy for the second time following their surprise success as rank outsiders in 2009.

They will meet Papua New Guinea in Saturday’s final after the two unbeaten countries clash in a dead rubber round robin game on Friday.

Both teams have won their first four fixtures at this 10th Nations Cup to secure their ticket to the main match on finals day.

Being netball team-mates is nothing new for O’Hanlon, Woods and Mason who all line out together for Lisburn-based NI Premier League champions Larkfield.

New national coach Julie Kimber went with that club combination as her mid-court unit for the toughest games so far against Botswana and hosts Singapore.

Kimber has had the luxury of mixing and matching from within her squad in the two more straightforward fixtures which have followed.

All 12 members got game-time in Wednesday’s 74-21 thrashing of Chinese Taipei and Kimber has a number of options in terms of her starting seven.

There may be some temptation to avoid declaring her hand before the final but Northern Ireland will want to maintain their 100 percent record.

Captain Gemma Gibney and Northern Ireland’s most capped player Caroline O’Hanlon both played every minute up until Wednesday’s second half against Chinese Taipei.

Those two and the third survivor from the successful squad of 2009, defender Fionnuala Toner, appear nailed-on starters.

If new vice-captain Niamh Cooper plays at wing defence, that would leave Woods, Michelle Drayne and Mason fighting for one spot at wing attack.

The coach is expecting Papua New Guinea to pose a typically physical challenge but Kimber could go with the height of both Bowman sisters, Kyla and Jenna, in the attacking circle or pair one of them with Sarah Montgomery.