Belfast Telegraph

Carpenter's girls aiming to make an impression

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's build-up to a crucial summer of international netball continues in far-flung Suva this week with a triangular tournament and one-off Test against host nation Fiji.

The girls in green, who left for the Pacific Islands last Saturday, will face a Fiji side seventh in the world rankings and also Papua New Guinea, who are 18th.

With the European Championships coming up at the end of the month, this long-distance trip should be a very valuable exercise for Kate Carpenter and her players. The coach is without a couple of her regular starting seven, such as accomplished defender Fionnuala Toner and experienced centre Caroline O'Hanlon, as the two Masters students have exams.

However both have had plenty of high-intensity competition this spring in the British SuperLeague and their absence this week will ensure greater game-time for others.

There are welcome returns to the fold for experienced campaigners Frances Campbell and her Graduates skipper Lisa McCaffrey, while Nordia Masters is back after missing February's Trinidad trip.

With Toner not there, Masters and Campbell should share game-time alongside Gemma Gibney in the defensive circle behind Niamh Cooper or Michelle Drayne.

Drayne and McCaffrey will contest the centre berth normally occupied by O'Hanlon, though the latter may be needed at wing attack with fitness concerns over captain Hannah Willis.

Another option would be moving Oonagh McCullough out of the shooting circle to fill in for Willis, who lasted only seven minutes of last Tuesday's Senior Cup final for Graduates.

However that would mean pairing vice-captain Noleen Lennon and Larkfield's Lisa Somerville, both best suited to the lead shooter role, in the attacking circle.

Carpenter has a multitude of options within her tour party of 10 and with O'Hanlon and Toner to come back in, Northern Ireland now have decent depth.

The European Championships, which start on May 30, have added importance this time as they double up as a regional qualifier for next year's World Cup in Australia.

After the Euros, Northern Ireland's full focus will turn to Glasgow 2014 and a first ever Commonwealth Games appearance for the girls in green.

NI SQUAD: H Willis (capt), G Gibney, O McCullough, N Cooper, F Campbell, L McCaffrey (all Graduates); L Somerville, M Drayne, N Masters (all Larkfield); N Lennon (Belfast Ladies).

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