Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Belfast have talent for title tilt

Ciara Crosbie is a big loss to the Premier League champions

Belfast Ladies have enough emerging talent to replace the promising players they are losing to university across the water, according to Elaine Rice.

The former Northern Ireland coach is confident she will be able to spend most of this season playing second team netball in spite of the brain drain hitting the club.

Rice acknowledges that current Under 21 internationals Mary Carson and Ciara Crosbie are both big losses to the Premier League champions.

But she insists that the squad strength which served Belfast Ladies so well last year means the club has high hopes of retaining their title.

They have an impressive production line of young talent who have benefitted from Rice's mentoring on and off court and she is backing fresh faces to step up.

Although she has featured frequently for the firsts in recent years between maternity breaks, the former Northern Ireland captain is determined to take a back seat as a player this term.

"I'm intending to stick with the seconds as, in spite of effectively losing Mary and Ciara, we're still able to field a very competitive mix of youth and experience," she says.

With Maire Toner on holiday, Northern Ireland Under 17 international Rachel Moore was handed a debut in the 81-26 victory over Laganside last Friday night.

"It was a great chance for her to play alongside Noleen Lennon up front and likewise our very promising goalkeeper Olivia McDonald has experience next to her in Clar-Rois McGuiness.

"We've a trio of national squad regulars in the Toner sisters and Cathy McLean and Sinead Smye stood out at last year's World University Championships in South Africa."

Belfast Ladies shouldn't have any problems tonight against a Donaghadee side whose opening game against Larkfield last week was postponed.

The Lisburn side will belatedly get under way against ambitious Causeway who would like to challenge the established big three but just squeezed past Bangor in their first fixture.

Bangor will want to build upon that encouraging effort by beating Banbridge, while the other two teams new to top flight netball, Dromore and Westside, face each other.

Fresh from hammering Dromore, many people's title favourites Graduates should be tested a whole lot more by Laganside.

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