Belfast Telegraph

Graduates may regret slippy court appeal

Richard Bullick

The shambolic conclusion to the local netball season has taken another dramatic twist with the three remaining matches scheduled for the next five days.

Graduates' refusal to play Premier League leaders Larkfield last month in the absence of both teams' British SuperLeague stars triggered the current crisis.

Unlike Larkfield and outgoing champions Belfast Ladies, defiant Graduates wouldn't fulfil fixtures but demanded an extension to the domestic season.

All league games were to be completed by a cut-off date of March 31 but, not for the first time, Graduates got their own way.

However unclear communication around the decision has caused chaos and confusion, with the picture changing constantly throughout what has become a sorry saga.

It initially appeared that both competing clubs would have to agree rearranged games, with no team penalised for not accommodating matches outside the established timetable.

Larkfield, who have won all 17 leagues games since last September, had made it clear they couldn't play beyond the end of March due to their players having made other commitments.

However, the Lisburn club have now been arbitrarily instructed to play Graduates today and it is understood Larkfield will be fielding an entire second string.

That hands a massive advantage to Larkfield's chief challengers, who can still draw level with them on points by beating Denise Prue's side and Belfast Ladies.

But the sting in the tail is that Graduates will have to play their derby rivals next Wednesday night without their six current Northern Ireland internationals.

Gemma Gibney, Frances Campbell, Niamh Cooper, Lisa McCaffrey, Hannah Willis and Oonagh McCullough will all be at a national squad session that evening ahead of Northern Ireland's tour to Fiji.

There is little sympathy though for Graduates, who got the original rearranged game against Belfast Ladies last week abandoned due to claims of a slippy court.

Cynics have pointed to the fact that Graduates' appeal against court conditions came with their team, missing star shooter Oonagh McCullough, trailing 23-12 after the first quarter.

Graduates declined to make the sporting gesture of agreeing to resume the original game without players parachuted in who were unavailable for its first staging.

Meanwhile, the Senior Cup final between Graduates and Larkfield, which was postponed from April 5 due to a direct clash with a British SuperLeague game, has been fixed for next Tuesday evening.

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