Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

International Netball Festival: Northern Ireland 54 Botswana 23

The Northern Ireland team line up  at the opening  ceremony last night
The Northern Ireland team line up at the opening ceremony last night

Kate Carpenter declared herself satisfied after Northern Ireland got their International Festival of Netball off to the perfect start with a convincing victory over Botswana.

The new national coach wasn't getting carried away with her team's 31-goal margin against the tournament outsiders, pointing out Botswana were coming into the game on the back of protracted travel arrangements.

"I think Botswana will give a good account of themselves this week so although we probably got them at their most vulnerable, we're happy with what we got out of this opening game," reflected Carpenter.

"We won by a fairly emphatic margin, were able to get everyone on court and also try out different combinations so it was a useful first outing and sets us up for the tough tests to come."

Northern Ireland are in action again tonight (7pm) when victory over St Lucia would book the home country a place in Sunday's final with one round robin match to spare.

Another bonus for Carpenter was that first choice centre Caroline O'Hanlon came through three typically classy quarters unscathed, with padding protecting her recently broken ribs.

The Larkfield captain pulled the strings impressively in the third quarter in particular as rampant Northern Ireland outscored their African visitors by 17-4 to take a 29-goal lead into the last 15 minutes.

That was the signal for Carpenter to empty her bench, with the entire attacking quartet withdrawn and former captain Noleen Lennon being moved up to her more familiar role of goal-shooter.

With captain Gemma Gibney ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury, the versatile Lennon had been switched to the opposite end of the court where she did an excellent job as goalkeeper.

But the profilic Portaferry woman made the most of her time up front by netting nine of her 11 shots in that final quarter, when she was partnered by teenage Belfast Ladies clubmate Ciara Crosbie.

Lennon's positional switch to keeper had created an opening for Larkfield's Lisa Somerville, who made the most of her opportunity by leading the way with 34 goals in her first competitive match for Northern Ireland in four years.

Recently returned from a double maternity break, the strapping six-footer thrived on good service from the established trio of O'Hanlon, captain Hannah Willis and Oonagh McCullough.

Carpenter started with her strongest seven as the hosts sought to put their best foot forward in the opening game and after leading by five at the first break they eased out to a 27-11 advantage by half-time.

Fionnuala Toner caught the coach's eye with a forceful performance in two different defensive positions, both before and after switching from wing defence to partner Lennon in the back circle.

That enabled NI Under-21 captain Niamh Cooper to come on at half-time for her competitive debut, giving her a quarter with the established stars before the multiple changes at the next break.

In the second game of the evening, the world's 10th ranked nation Barbados beat their Caribbean cousins St Lucia 51-33 to affirm their status as favourites to lift the trophy on Sunday.

NORTHERN IRELAND: N Lennon, F Campbell, F Toner, C O'Hanlon, H Willis (capt), O McCullough, L Somerville. Subs: N Cooper (for Campbell), N Masters (for Somerville), C McLean (for O'Hanlon), M Drayne (for Willis), C Crosbie (for McCullough).

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