Belfast Telegraph

Graduates may net chance to return to league in the future

 

By Richard Bullick

One of Northern Ireland netball's most successful clubs will be missing tonight when the new domestic season gets under way with the opening round of Premier League fixtures.

Belfast giants Graduates, who won the domestic double as recently as 2012, have folded following a dramatic decline in fortunes.

The club has paid the ultimate price for failing to develop young talent behind the all-international line-up which brought them such success.

Missing most of those stars through a combination of retirement, injury, pregnancy, emigration and transfers to other clubs, Graduates struggled last season in painful fashion.

In spite of previously fielding two teams in the Netball NI leagues, Graduates have opted out altogether this season, though the hope remains that this famous club hasn't disappeared for good.

There may actually be a short-term silver lining for local club netball with the recruitment of former Graduates players bolstering their traditional rivals, Belfast Ladies.

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Gemma Gibney and experienced centre Lisa McCaffrey will line out for Belfast Ladies while Scottish-based international forward Oonagh McCullough has also registered with the club.

Lisburn-based champions Larkfield ran away with their fourth consecutive title last season, going through the campaign with a 100 per cent record.

Graduates' demise means the title holders should have credible rivals this time round in Belfast Ladies, with Larkfield's ambitious neighbours Kingsway aiming to make it a three-way fight.

Donaghadee return to an expanded Premier League which also features newly-promoted Portadown and Valley along with Dublin-based Shamrocks and the second strings of Larkfield and Belfast Ladies.

Lisburn Racquets will host five Premier fixtures each Friday.

NI Premier League fixtures (at Lisburn Racquets): Kingsway v Donaghadee, Belfast Ladies II v Laganside, Westside v Larkfield II (all 7pm), Larkfield v Valley, Shamrocks v Portadown.

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