ENGLAND 64 NORTHERN IRELAND 22
A Scottish capitulation against Wales left Northern Ireland with too high a mountain to climb to claim European Championship silver medals at Antrim Forum on Sunday.
In a scenario reminiscent of the final day of rugby’s 2015 Six Nations Championship, Northern Ireland were hoping for favours from others or at least sufficient leeway to keep the dream alive.
A Scotland win over Wales would have guaranteed the hosts runners-up place before facing England, but the dragons roared to a convincing victory.
That meant Northern Ireland needed to keep perpetual champions England’s margin to 31 goals in the following game, a tough task considering the traditional gulf between these teams.
However, rather than the big Welsh win being a deflating factor for Northern Ireland, the girls in green played positively and deservedly edged an uplifting first quarter.
With European Player of 2010 Caroline O’Hanlon at her inspirational best in the middle of the court, the hosts thrilled an excited crowd by showing scant regard for their illustrious opponents.
Brilliance from O’Hanlon led to Lisa Bowman, who netted a dozen of her 13 shots in the opening period, putting Northern Ireland in front and she added two more to make it 12-9 at the first break.
Unfortunately that was as good as it got and, after Tracey Neville rung the changes, England responded powerfully by rattling in 14 unanswered goals in the second quarter.
It was already looking ominous before England nailed five more in the opening two minutes of the third, prompting Rice to call a tactical time-out.
But Northern Ireland simply couldn’t stem the tide and the writing was on the wall when England led 41-19 with a quarter of the match remaining.
On the occasion of her 50th cap, the eldest Bowman was responsible for all but one of Northern Ireland’s goals but England were simply scoring too fast at the other end and really ran away with it to win 64-22.