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Battling Northern Ireland are pipped for silver

By Richard Bullick

Published 18/05/2015

Throwing forward: Fionnuala Toner launches an attack for Northern Ireland but the size of England’s victory meant that they couldn’t finish as European Championship runners-up
Throwing forward: Fionnuala Toner launches an attack for Northern Ireland but the size of England’s victory meant that they couldn’t finish as European Championship runners-up

There was to be no European Championship silver lining at Antrim Forum for Northern Ireland, as they went down 64-22 to England in their last match which confirmed Wales as the runners-up for the second time in four years.

The last time the Euros came here in 2011, Elaine Rice's side blew a six-goal lead in the closing minutes of their final fixture with Wales and the draw denied Northern Ireland a top-two finish.

On this occasion, the draw with Wales came in the opening game and it was a Scottish capitulation yesterday morning which left the girls in green too much to do against mighty England in the afternoon.

Level at 20-20 with Wales at half-time, the Scots scored only one goal in the third quarter and their resounding defeat meant Northern Ireland at worst needed to lose the England game by a margin of under 31.

That felt like a tall order but rather than being disheartened by the equation having worsened, the home team came out all guns blazing.

An inspired display in the first quarter must surely rank among their best ever with the simply magnificent Caroline O'Hanlon showing why she was the European Player of 2010.

Along with captain Gemma Gibney, the experienced centre led by example and for a while even England couldn't cope with the surging green waves.

With a decent crowd responding, Northern Ireland netted the final five goals of the quarter even though second shooter Kyla Bowman missed all three shots in the opening period.

Her elder sister Lisa, winning her 50th cap, converted all but one of her 13 chances in scoring every goal for the hosts as they went in 12-9 up.

England coach Tracey Neville ruthlessly rung the changes and the tide turned in spectacular fashion as the hot favourites rattled in 14 goals without reply in the second quarter.

A further five in the first two minutes of the third prompted Rice to call a time-out but England continued to widen the gap at an alarming rate to lead 41-19 at the last break.

The writing was on the wall and after England got beyond Northern Ireland's allowable limit, they really ran away with it in completing a 64-22 win.

It was an ultimately frustrating day for Northern Ireland, who had hoped to secure European Championship silver medals for only a second time ever.

Clinching runners-up place, like in 2012, would have made up for Saturday's disappointment of failing to overturn Trinidad and Tobago.

Northern Ireland began brightly against a team which had surprisingly been beaten by Scotland in the morning and were expected to fade physically in their second game of the day.

It was looking good for Rice's crew when they were maintaining a five-goal lead in the opening period but Northern Ireland will look back on too many missed chances as crucial.

Had the girls in green been more clinical when dominant it could have broken Trinidad but the Caribbean side gratefully grasped the lifeline and dramatically turned the match around.

They took the second quarter 17-7 to lead by eight goals and Northern Ireland couldn't significantly close the gap in the remainder of the game, going on to lose 52-40.

But overall it was a very encouraging tournament for a transitional Northern Ireland, who have lost half the squad which finished seventh at last summer's Commonwealth Games.

Belfast Telegraph

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