Carpenter is caught in middle of player row
Published 18/03/2014 | 01:30
The climax of the Premier League season has been thrown into chaos over an apparent player release wrangle between national coach Kate Carpenter and leading clubs.
Friday night's clash between leaders Larkfield and Graduates was unexpectedly postponed and no new date has been fixed for this probable title decider.
Kiwi Carpenter doubles up as head coach of British SuperLeague outfit Team Northumbria and has six NI Premier League stars on her roster at the Tyneside franchise.
With the European Championships and Commonwealth Games looming this summer, it is beneficial for Northern Ireland's leading stars to be involved in top-class competitive matches every week.
That, however, has significantly curtailed their availability for domestic matches, especially with Carpenter stipulating that players sit out Friday night games here if they are in SuperLeague action the following evening.
Her stance is understandable, but has triggered a backlash from disgruntled Graduates, who are sometimes without three players for Premier League games as a result.
Although Larkfield would have been without captain Caroline O'Hanlon, it is believed Graduates refused to take the court unless Oonagh McCullough, Gemma Gibney and Niamh Cooper were made available.
Deposed champions Belfast Ladies are also unhappy having been hard hit by the continual absence of captain Noleen Lennon and defender Fionnuala Toner, leaving club coaches at loggerheads with Carpenter.
There is also discontent that the national coach hasn't attended more matches between the big three clubs to run her eye over Commonwealth hopefuls.
At this stage it is unclear what will happen next as the Premier League season was scheduled to finish at the end of March, but Graduates would like to fulfil fixtures beyond that date.
Meanwhile Northern Ireland international Michelle Drayne was thrown in at the deep end for her first SuperLeague start at home to champions Team Bath in Newcastle on Saturday night.
The English-based exile got her chance to play centre in the absence of her Larkfield captain O'Hanlon, who is in Hong Kong on the ladies gaelic All Stars tour.
It proved tough going with Bath easing into a 17-12 lead by the first interval before blitzing Northumbria 18-7 in a one-sided second quarter.
Carpenter rung the changes at half-time, including switching Marie Ewing to centre and moving McCullough out to wing attack and Northumbria bounced back by taking the third quarter 17-15.
The win was well beyond them though and Bath had 16 goals to spare in the end after edging the final period, to win 66-50.