Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Injured trio up against the clock for Euros

Fionnuala Toner

Northern Ireland coach Kate Carpenter is sweating over the fitness of three top players ahead of the European Championships which start next Friday in Cardiff.

Skipper Hannah Willis, her predecessor Gemma Gibney and vice-captain Noleen Lennon are all injury doubts for the tournament, which doubles up as the regional qualifier for next year's World Cup in Australia; Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are chasing two tickets.

Wing attack Willis is still struggling with the calf muscle strain which forced her off after only seven minutes of last month's domestic showpiece.

With the European Championships coming up so soon afterwards, some may question the wisdom of the Graduates star being brought on the subsequent tour to Fiji.

She sat out the first and last games but played the opening three quarters of the Digicel Tri-series decider against the host nation in Suva.

Goalkeeper Gibney couldn't continue in extra-time of that match and acting captain Lennon was injured in the final quarter of the following day's one-off Test.

All three core members of Northern Ireland's golden generation sat out last Saturday's training game against the Republic of Ireland in Lisburn.

Carpenter has delayed announcing her squad until Monday to give the star trio every chance to recover, though they will need medical clearance from the Sports Institute before being included.

Losing any of these three experienced campaigners would be a big blow but Carpenter can welcome back British SuperLeague stars Caroline O'Hanlon and Fionnuala Toner, who were unavailable for the Fiji trip due to exams.

If everyone is fit, those two added to the 10 players on duty in the Pacific Islands could constitute Carpenter's Euro squad of 12.

However, Toner's younger sister Maire may be in the frame for a recall as a tactical change and would specialist cover for Willis at wing attack as well as a better balance between attackers and defenders.

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