Belfast Telegraph

Depleted Ireland are pipped in extra time

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland put up a magnificent fight before favourites Fiji finally claimed the Digicel Tri-Series trophy with a 60-59 victory after extra-time in Suva.

Already missing a couple of leading lights for this tour, Kate Carpenter's team was further ravaged by injury, losing captain Hannah Willis at the beginning of the last quarter and goalkeeper Gemma Gibney and Nordia Masters at the end of it.

The girls in green did their best to dampen the vocal crowd in a packed Vodafone Arena by edging the first quarter 16-14 and produced an astonishing 10 turnovers in the second.

They stunned the partisan support by audaciously stretching their lead to 31-21 at half-time, but Fiji enjoyed dominance in the third period and by the final break had reduced the arrears to three goals at 40-37.

Fortunes fluctuated throughout a thrilling last quarter with Fiji coming through to take a three- goal lead entering the final five minutes.

But Northern Ireland battled back to draw level at 51-51, sending this epic encounter into extra-time with the trophy up for grabs.

Acting captain Noleen Lennon was forced to take over in goal with Larkfield's Lisa Somerville as lead shooter.

With exam-tied students Caroline O'Hanlon and Fionnuala Toner missing this trip, Northern Ireland were now without more than half their regular line-up.

But they edged ahead 56-54 in extra-time before Fiji fought back to gain parity at 57-57 and finally nicked it by the minimum margin after a pulsating contest.

"We didn't get the result in the end. Naturally there's disappointment but these are great learning experiences," reflected Carpenter.

Northern Ireland's tour conclude with a one-off Test against Fiji though that looks like a daunting task with the growing number of walking wounded.

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