It was a weekend of milestones for the Northern Ireland netball team as they put the final touches to preparations for the World Cup set to start this Friday in Liverpool.
The PWC Warriors will face defending champions and top-ranked Australia in their opening game at the M & S Arena before clashing with the other Group A contenders, Sri Lanka, on Saturday then Zimbabwe the following day.
Noleen Armstrong joined an elite club in Saturday’s 49-49 draw with Trinidad and Tobago as she won her 100th cap for Northern Ireland. Armstrong retired after last year’s Commonwealth Games but with Lisa Bowman suffering a serious ankle injury in the build-up to the tournament, the goal shooter who played in the 2003 and 2011 competitions is having one more crack at World Cup glory.
“It’s a privilege to represent my country and an honour to play with the fantastic group that is our team and just delighted to have the opportunity to represent NI in another World Cup,” said Armstrong.
At the other end of the caps scale, Shaunagh Craig made her Northern Ireland debut in the weekend draw.
Craig was selected to play for England at the last tournament but had to withdraw due to injury, having previously won European titles with the under 17s, under 19s and under 21s. With her mother from Strabane, Craig was called up to Northern Ireland by coach Dan Ryan for Liverpool.
Having also won the Super League title with Team Bath in 2013 and voted Supporters’ Player of the Year over 2015, Craig is expected to play goal attack, taking over from experienced duo Kyla Bowman and Oonagh McCullough, who have both stepped down from international duty after the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Craig started at goal shooter in the side’s last warm-up game against Malawi yesterday, a side ranked ninth - one place above Northern Ireland.
Despite a battling performance in the last quarter, Ryan’s players went down 53-37.