Lisa Bowman came agonisingly close to sealing a magnificent fightback from Northern Ireland as the hosts drew with Wales at Antrim Forum on day one of the European Open.
Trailing going into the last quarter, a stirring finish from the girls in green saw them edge ahead in the final minute before Wales levelled again at 53-53.
There was still time for one last chance but Bowman’s shot just lipped out as the whistle went at the end of an absorbing game in which the lead changed hands numerous times.
After a slow start, Northern Ireland led for most of the first half and were seven up at one stage but Wales were in the box-seat for much of the second.
Bowman had broken Welsh hearts by netting 46 goals as Northern Ireland stunned their higher ranked opponents with an impressive 58-36 victory in the seventh place play-off at last summer’s Commonwealth Games.
Here she scored with 43 of her 51 attempts, a very respectable return, but it wasn’t enough for a Northern Ireland victory because Wales were red hot in their shooting circle, converting all but one of their 54 efforts.
Last time Wales were in Antrim, the match also ended in a dramatic draw as Northern Ireland blew a six-goal lead in the closing stages of the 2011 European Championships clash.
This time there was a much more positive vibe afterwards in spite of the sense of what might have been after a generally good display by Elaine Rice’s new-look side.
For this prestigious tournament the coach could call on only half last summer’s squad but some of the fresh faces have quickly taken their chance to shine.
Tyrone gaelic captain Neamh Woods was drafted in to play the unfamiliar role of wing attack in an all-Larkfield front four with her Armagh counterpart Caroline O’Hanlon and the eldest two Bowman sisters.
“I thought Neamh Woods was excellent and what we saw today backed up my belief that this is still a strong squad with decent depth in spite of the turnover of players since Glasgow 2014,” reflected Rice.
“The three subs who came on did a job, including shooter SarahMontgomery who has had little experience at this level but relished responsibility in that nail-biting last quarter.”
Rice’s resources will be tested on Friday with a demanding double-header against Scotland (10.30am) and South Africa (6.30pm).
NORTHERN IRELAND: G Gibney (capt), F Toner, N Cooper, C O’Hanlon, N Woods, K Bowman, L Bowman. Subs: D McCarthy for Cooper, M Drayne for McCarthy, S Montgomery for K Bowman.
RESULTS: England 63 Trinidad&Tobago 42, Scotland 45 South Africa 34, Northern Ireland 53 Wales 53, England 69 South Africa 33.