Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Dromore taught harsh lesson by Graduates

By Richard Bullick

Published 01/10/2013

Rising star: Niamh Cooper will be a key player this season
Rising star: Niamh Cooper will be a key player this season

Merciless Graduates delivered a powerful statement of intent on the opening night of the domestic netball season as they thrashed top flight newcomers Dromore.

It was a traumatic baptism of fire for the freshly-promoted outfit, whose Premier League debut turned into a nightmare 115-3 defeat at the hands of the title favourites.

Overwhelmed Dromore were always likely to be on the receiving end of a cricket score against a star-studded Graduates side stung by being dethroned as champions last season.

They might have hoped to keep the Grads' tally to double figures but Madeline Mason's side relentlessly asserted their total superiority and comfortably broke through the century barrier.

The coach will have learned little from her first game back in charge since after taking a year out for personal reasons as this was the ultimate mismatch which will hopefully not unduly damage Dromore's morale.

Facing Graduates' all-international line-up in their first fixture was bound to be a culture shock and Dromore can console themselves that it can't get any tougher than this.

Ability aside, this was women against girls in terms of physicality, an array of highly conditioned international athletes coming up against players not even used to competing at the top club level here.

For several seasons, Graduates have had the competition's strongest side on paper, consistently supplying around half the national squad.

One measure of their enviable depth is that they can call on NI Under-21 captain Niamh Cooper to slot into the wing defence vacancy left by the retirement of Bronagh McAfee.

The promising Cooper has had to bide her time but a regular starting spot in the Graduates' team this season will be the perfect platform to help push for a place in Kate Carpenter's Commonwealth Games squad.

New signing Sarah Montgomery should prove a useful addition for Grads and rotated with the experienced duo of Lisa McCaffrey and Louise McKeown around the middle of the court on the opening night.

With such service coming into the circle it was no surprise that Dromore couldn't contain imposing international forwards Oonagh McCullough and Hannah Irvine, who rattled in the goals at an alarming rate. At the other end, the Dromore attackers inevitably found it tough going against Northern Ireland captain Gemma Gibney and her fellow international regular, Frances Campbell.

Northern Ireland Under-17 international Rachel Moore got a debut up front in place of the holidaying Maire Toner as champions Belfast Ladies began their title defence with an 81-26 victory over Laganside.

In a much closer contest, Causeway were pushed all the way by Bangor before winning 26-24, but along with Laganside look like the best bets to feature in the top half of the table behind the big three.

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