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New-look Grads face ultimate test as they aim to bounce back

By Richard Bullick

Published 21/10/2016

Lone survivor: Gemma Gibney won the double with Graduates in 2012
Lone survivor: Gemma Gibney won the double with Graduates in 2012

Rebuilding Graduates have the daunting task of facing champions Larkfield in tonight's second round of matches in the NI Premier League.

It is likely to be a tough fixture for Patricia Herron's team as they attempt to bounce back from a disappointing derby defeat against Belfast Ladies on the opening night a week ago.

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Gemma Gibney is the only frontliner left from the team which won a resounding domestic double back in 2012 and looked set to dominate the domestic scene.

Compared to that star-studded side, Graduates were without no fewer than eight former and current internationals for last Friday's loss, albeit Belfast Ladies are also in transition.

Larkfield began their title defence last weekend with captain Caroline O'Hanlon and two other regulars unavailable because of work commitments.

But they still hammered top flight newcomers Westside 80-24, in spite of Northern Ireland's star shooter Lisa Bowman filling in for her younger sister and Larkfield's regular goalkeeper Jenna, while the diminutive Laura Mason had big responsibility in the middle of the court.

The champions were without O'Hanlon, Neamh Woods, Eimear McKillop and long-term exile Michelle Drayne from that sector but still romped to a comprehensive victory.

With at least some of the big guns back this evening they should be too strong for Graduates and already look like the team everyone else will again struggle to live with this season.

Debbie Bleakley's Belfast Ladies should make it two wins from two tonight when they tackle Kingsway in the other match of the late double-header (8.30pm) at Lisburn Racquets.

Before then, two of the losing sides from the opening games, Causeway and Westside will face off at the same venue (7pm).

PREMIER LEAGUE (tonight, all at Lisburn Racquets): Causeway v Westside (7pm), Graduates v Larkfield (8.30pm), Kingsway v Belfast Ladies (8.30pm).

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