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Netball: NI netball team earn bronze

By Brian Elliott

Northern Ireland's netball team returned to the province last weekend after capturing bronze in the Five Nations Cup event, held in Singapore.

The result was excellent considering that Scotland - who are ranked above Northern Ireland - only managed to place fourth in last year's competition, and furthermore because the team struggled in their initial tournament outings.

But despite losses to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Trinidad & Tobago, team captain Hannah Irvine told Local Heroes that the team's belief in themselves never wavered.

"Morale was always very high within the group because we knew that our performances were good," she said. "Jet-lag was an issue, because we only had one day to acclimatise, but we always knew we were capable of winning these games."

On Friday, the team rebounded with a superb win over Canada by 44-34, which meant that they advanced to a play-off with Sri Lanka, who had beaten them 55-50 on the previous day.

"We found the first game with Sri Lanka difficult, as they had a goal shooter who was 6ft 8in tall! But we worked on defending that, and got used to dealing with it. In the end, we won 61-51."

That win earned the team third place overall, with Singapore retaining their title after victory over favourites Trinidad & Tobago in the all-deciding contest.

Looking forward, the team's attention now turns to the European Championships, to be held in February 2008, with clashes against UK rivals high on the agenda.

"When it comes to the Euros, we are definitely looking to beat Wales or Scotland," Irvine said. "We need to do that in order to move up in the European rankings.

"This is a young team who have been playing together for around a year, and given that we had four Under-21 players in our squad, and the oldest player was 26, there is still time for this team to improve together."

Although the European Championships is a huge event for any player, even it remains in the shadow of the Commonwealth Games - to be held next in 2010 in Delhi - which may prove the real challenge for this Northern Ireland squad.

"There's no doubt that the Commonwealth Games is bigger in the long run, as much as the Euros mean. The Euros will be a step towards the bigger goal of the Commonwealth Games."

For a few weeks at least, though, the team can enjoy their accomplishments in the Five Nations competition.

"I was very proud of everyone in the squad," captain Irvine concluded. "In some ways, I can't believe that we managed to win the bronze. But we knew what we had to do, and it was the best feeling to actually achieve it. Our coach Denise (Prue) was thrilled, and we deserved our success."

Squad: H.Irvine (c), N.Lennon, S.Martin, D.McCarthy, L.McCaffrey, L.Bowman, A.Magee, L.McKeown, M.Drayne, E.Wright, F.Campbell.

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