Netball: Northern Ireland aiming for one final upset
They’re already guaranteed to return home heroes having become the first Northern Ireland netball team to reach a World Cup quarter-final.
But captain Noleen Lennon insists her side still has unfinished business in Singapore — even though they’ll be odds on to lose the three remaining matches, starting against England tomorrow.
The downside of reaching the last eight by shocking Samoa 66-37 is that the girls in green will be rank outsiders each time they take the court from now as the teams play off for precise placings.
But the Portaferry woman, who has 122 goals to her name so far, isn’t daunted by the challenges ahead and is happy not to be scrambling among the also-rans for minor placings.
“This is where we want to be, in the top section and rubbing shoulders with the best teams. It won’t be easy but you wouldn’t expect it to be at this stage,” she insists.
Lennon’s ladies lost 69-34 to England at the Antrim Forum in April’s European Championships so, on paper at least, tomorrow’s quarter-final looks likely to be a bridge too far for Northern Ireland.
“We’ve never beaten England at senior level so no-one is under any illusions, but we showed against Australia on Tuesday that we aren’t out of our depth, “ she said.
“When we took it to the Aussies we created chances and didn’t lie down in spite of being 30 goals down at half-time so that’s the spirit we’ll take into the England game and aim to play positively.
“The match is being televised live on Sky so we’ll want to put up a good show for the people back home who will be watching after all the attention our win over Samoa has received.”
Lennon added: “It’s been brilliant to have messages of support not only from family, friends and netball people but also politicians from all parties and several leading sportspeople.
“I was presenting awards with Kyle McCallan a few days before we came out here and he was impressing upon me how important the big breakthrough at the 2007 World Cup was for the growth of Irish cricket.
“He made the point that reaching the quarter-finals of this tournament would work wonders for Northern Ireland netball and already we’re seeing the increased interest our success is creating.
“We’ve already exceeded expectations but we would love to claim another notable scalp in the coming days,” she vowed ahead of the match with the European champions and Pool D winners.
Things have progressed a long way for Northern Ireland and Lennon since she and Caroline O’Hanlon attended the 2003 World Cup in Jamaica as talented teenagers in a disjointed squad which performed poorly and finished 19th.
The experienced pair produced top-drawer displays in Tuesday’s respectable defeat by holders Australia, Lennon’s leadership being praised by coach Elaine Rice and O’Hanlon’s performance branded sensational by the commentators.
After mixing and matching against the Aussies in a game where several fringe figures held up their hands, Rice went with tried and tested combinations against Samoa.
The coach will want Northern Ireland to put their best foot forward for tomorrow’s morning’s rather excited television audience back home.