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Irish girls fall short in bid to net a double

By Richard Bullick

Published 16/05/2015

Battle: Fionnuala Toner with Mari-Lena Joubert
Battle: Fionnuala Toner with Mari-Lena Joubert

Northern Ireland's magnificent effort to take the scalp of South Africa ultimately ran out of legs last night, but it was still a good Friday for the girls in green at the European Open.

Elaine Rice's side had already recorded an impressive victory over fierce rivals Scotland in the morning before facing a fresh South African outfit playing their first game of the day.

An inspired Northern Ireland went toe-to-toe with a physically superior side who are ranked sixth in the world and had the audacity to take a 25-24 lead just before half-time.

With injuries and fatigue forcing Rice to redeploy players, the Proteas pulled away in the third, but still needed a final goal with the clock red to take their margin into double figures at 57-47.

Earlier Northern Ireland had an emphatic triumph against the Scots, who denied them qualification for this summer's World Cup with an agonising 45-44 win in Cardiff.

Since then the girls in green had exacted revenge by beating the Commonwealth hosts at Glasgow 2014 so the thistle was keen to sting back in Antrim.

The rivalry was reflected in the physicality with Scotland typically spoiling for a fight, but Rice's crew resolutely refused to be bullied.

It was an incredibly close contest throughout the first half with the sides deadlocked at 9-9 after the opening period and then 17-17 at the long break.

With Scotland increasingly lacking composure, Northern Ireland impressively pulled clear in the third quarter which they took 11-7 and, driven by an increasingly deafening din, never looked back.

With the raucous capacity crowd rocking the Antrim Forum like Windsor Park on a glory night, Northern Ireland drove on to a convincing victory.

At one stage the hosts were 11 up and comfortably finished off a 40-31 win which Rice admitted was an invaluable boost after being denied in the draw with Wales on Thursday afternoon.

Michelle Drayne came into the starting side against Scotland after impressing off the bench in the opening game and Rice kept the same seven throughout.

The inclusion of Drayne at goal defence meant Northern Ireland's front five were from Premier League champions Larkfield, supplemented by captain Gemma Gibney and Fionnuala Toner in the defensive circle.

Northern Ireland had the superior shooting stats in the Scottish clash as the eldest two of the squad's three Bowman sisters scored all 40 goals between them.

Senior sibling Lisa led the way with 32 goals from 35 attempts while Kyla converted eight of her 11 chances with the Scots nailing 30 of their 41 shots.

Day 2 results: Northern Ireland 40 Scotland 31, Wales 53 Trinidad & Tobago 46, England 60 Scotland 16, Northern Ireland 47 Scotland 57.

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