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Northern Ireland's Bowman goal grabs victory

Lisa Bowman nailed a last-gasp winner as Northern Ireland’s netballers edged hosts Wales 47-46 in a thrilling European Championships opener in Cardiff on Wednesday night.

The giant goal machine’s initial shot didn’t go in but she nailed the rebound to silence a vociferous Cardiff crowd who had just seen the Welsh side equalise.

Wales still had one last chance to level it up again but Northern Ireland goalkeeper, Gemma Gibney did enough to thwart the home shooter as the hooter brought great relief.

It had been a pulsating game of fluctuating fortunes in which Northern Ireland led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter but were 26-24 down at half-time.

Rices’s side stormed ahead again during a stunning third quarter in which they outscored their hosts 14-7 to take a five-goal lead into those last 15 minutes.

But Wales were far from finished and, with the backing of an increasingly excited crowd, they battled back to all square and the momentum seemed to be with them.

However these girls in green have fantastic character as they have shown in repeatedly punching above their weight during the past eight years of against-the-odds success.

Back in June they had dug deep to see off formidable Barbados 35-33 in the Quad Series final in Lisburn to secure qualification for next spring’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

That was a particularly crucial result for Northern Ireland netball but this too was a valiant victory, overcoming the team ranked seventh in the world in their own backyard.

They now play perennial champions England Thursday night before facing Fiji, who are playing Test against each of the home nations in parallel with the Euro Championships on Friday.

However, the key game now will be Sunday morning’s concluding clash with Scotland when another win would secure Euro silver medals for Northern Ireland for only the second time ever.

Northern Ireland have a good record against Scotland but the Thistles showed their sting on the opening afternoon by beating the higher-ranked Fijians 52-34.

The superb Bowman sisters scored all of Northern Ireland’s goals last night, Lisa leading the way with 39 from 46 shots and younger sibling Kyla netting eight of her 12 attempts.

Rice retained the same starting seven who had played the entire hour of June’s Quad Series final, with Neamh Woods and Oonagh McCullough coming on as second half subs.

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