International Festival of Netball: Battling hosts come up just short as Barbados clinch Festival crown
Northern Ireland put up a magnificent fight but too many missed shots by the hosts proved costly as Barbados won the International Festival final 47-38 at the Antrim Forum.
Not only were there only nine goals between the teams at the end of a pulsating game but battling Northern Ireland outscored the tournament favourites in the second and fourth quarters.
Considering the Caribbean crew converted 81 per cent of their shots to a 61 per cent return by Kate Carpenter's team, there was nothing between these sides in terms of the general game.
Throw in the fact that Northern Ireland were without captain Gemma Gibney and the legendary Noleen Lennon at either end of the court and this was an extremely encouraging effort by the girls in green against the team ranked 10th in the world.
With the trophy at stake, there was a huge increase in intensity from Northern Ireland yesterday compared to the previous day's dress rehearsal though the increased cohesion also owed a lot to the heroic Caroline O'Hanlon.
The world-class centre bravely returned after missing Saturday's concluding round robin match for personal reasons and, as always, lifted everyone around her with a typically tireless and accomplished display.
Beaten by double scores the day before, this time Northern Ireland held their own in a cracking contest, an inspired start putting them 7-4 up before Barbados reeled off the next seven goals.
The first break came with the favourites five up but Northern Ireland raised their game again and edged the second quarter to reach half-time only 18-22 down.
Although only third choice keeper behind Gibney and Lennon, Nordia Masters battled brilliantly and remarkably effectively throughout against the much taller Barbados shooter.
Barbados threatened to pull away in the third quarter but some brilliant attacking play helped the underdogs stay in touch and keep the game alive.
It looked all over for the hosts when their opponents pulled 15 clear with just over 12 minutes remaining but doctor duo O'Hanlon and Oonagh McCullough combined for the latter to net twice inside 60 seconds. Fellow shooter Lisa Somerville nailed a brace of her own in the next minute.
McCullough's courage typified her side's spirit but they could never get closer than eight and had to settle for the consolation of winning the final quarter 12-10.
NORTHERN IRELAND: N Masters, F Toner, N Cooper, C O'Hanlon, H Willis (capt), O McCullough, L Somerville. Subs: F Campbell for Toner, M Drayne for Cooper.