Clinical Bowman sisters turn on the style
The Bowman sisters scored all the goals between them as Larkfield thumped Premier League champions Belfast Ladies 44-24 in the biggest game of the domestic season so far.
Eldest sibling Lisa Somerville led the way, with help up front from fellow internationals Kyla and Jenna Bowman as the Lisburn club underlined their credentials as serious title contenders.
Captain Caroline O'Hanlon had insisted ahead of the campaign that a bolstered Larkfield were equipped to end a barren run without a trophy since the NI League and Cup double of 2010.
She cited the return of Somerville from maternity leave and Neamh Woods from long-term injury along with the summer signing of Nordia Masters as a basis for optimism. Both giant goal-shooter Somerville and Masters were real revelations at the recent International Festival, the former being named NI player of the tournament on her return following a four-year absence.
Masters was pressed into frontline service as a result of injuries to Gemma Gibney and Noleen Lennon and did a great job as goalkeeper, including in the final.
They continued their good form for Larkfield on Friday night, while Tyrone woman Woods – an inter-county rival of Armagh's O'Hanlon in gaelic football – has slotted in at wing defence for Denise Prue's side.
It had been thought O'Hanlon might miss this match in light of the difficult family circumstances which saw her called away from the International Festival a week earlier. But just as she bravely returned to shine in the Festival final, Larkfield's long-serving skipper insisted on lining out in the season's first battle between two of the established big three.
In spite of her personal situation and having needed an ankle treated against Barbados, O'Hanlon was available for club duty and delivered a typically dominant display. By contrast, Belfast Ladies were without their two first choice Northern Ireland players, captain Lennon and defender Fionnuala Toner, as a result of injuries sustained in Antrim.
The champions looked lightweight without that pair, the experienced Clar-Rois McGuinness and exiled student duo Ciara Crosbie and Mary Carson against Larkfield's powerful line-up.
Rachel Moore and Olivia McDonald are highly promising players, but understandably struggled to assert themselves against the intimidating Deborah McCarthy and Somerville at either end.
Having attended the Festival as spectators, former first choice internationals McCarthy and Kyla Bowman now know they have a real fight on their hands just to make the plane to Glasgow for next summer's Commonwealth Games.
However, along with Woods, they can force their way into contention by helping Larkfield dominate the domestic scene though Graduates – who beat Banbridge 84-19 – will provide a tougher test on Friday week.