Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Graduates look set to withdraw from Senior cup final

©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2013
Mandatory Credit -  Darren Kidd /Presseye.com

 
Northern Ireland v Barbados in the final of the International Netball Festival at the Antrim Forum: 
Northern Ireland's Michelle Drayne
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2013 Mandatory Credit - Darren Kidd /Presseye.com Northern Ireland v Barbados in the final of the International Netball Festival at the Antrim Forum: Northern Ireland's Michelle Drayne

What had promised to be an exciting conclusion to the domestic season is rapidly descending into a confused, frustrating shambles.

The stand-off over the availability of top players for crunch club clashes has already destroyed the climax of the NI Premier League.

Graduates refused to play the potential title decider against leaders Larkfield on Tuesday night without their leading lights, effectively handing the trophy to the Lisburn club.

Unless Graduates relent, the next logical casualty could be NI netball's domestic showpiece, the Senior Cup final between the same two clubs, which must now be in danger of not taking place.

It is scheduled for April 5 as the main event on the traditional finals day at all levels, but that date directly clashes with a British SuperLeague fixture for Team Northumbria.

That will rule out Oonagh McCullough, Gemma Gibney and Niamh Cooper from the Graduates side with Larkfield losing captain Caroline O'Hanlon and fellow international Michelle Drayne.

If Graduates apply the same principle to the Cup final as they have to the likely league decider, they will simply pull out of the game, a highly unsatisfactory conclusion to the season.

It is beneficial for the national team that Northern Ireland's leading lights are playing every week in the high-intensity BSL but local clubs have had to take the hit of being without them.

Champions Belfast Ladies and unbeaten Larkfield have been prepared to fulfil fixtures without their biggest stars but Graduates refused to play the other top teams when weakened.

Rather than fight for the title on court with a still strong side they have handed it to Larkfield by opting not to play their rivals on a costly point of principle.

As has always been the case with football, local cricket clubs have lost players to the elite level competition in England in recent years and now netball is in a similar situation.

Managers of representative teams in hockey and gaelic restrict the availability of players for club matches so Graduates, like Larkfield and Belfast Ladies, must adjust for league games.

However there is little justification for the Senior Cup final going ahead without the top players and an alternative date to next Saturday should still be found.

This clash has been known about for months yet nothing has been done to avoid the biggest game of the entire domestic season being badly devalued by unnecessary absenteeism.

McCullough, Gibney, Cooper, O'Hanlon, Fionnuala Toner and Noleen Lennon will be in Sky Sports action tonight for Northumbria.

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