Belfast Telegraph

NI girls face an anxious wait to discover Games fate

 

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's netballers won a pulsating Quad Series final in Lisburn last night but are still sweating over Commonwealth Games qualification. The girls in green produced another superb performance to defeat formidable Barbados for the second time in 48 hours, holding their nerve to take a ferocious contest 35-33.

Having scored 49 of the 51 goals on Wednesday, towering Lisa Bowman this time netted 33 times with younger sister Kyla getting the other two.

Elaine Rice's side actually lost the last quarter, but had a sufficient cushion to hang on for a vital victory.

Northern Ireland needed this win to have any realistic chance of maintaining the top-12 world ranking needed to reach the Gold Coast in 2018. They still face an anxious wait for results elsewhere ahead of the official cut-off date of July 1, with Uganda's shock win against Malawi this week causing concern.

But the gallant greens have done all they can this week as hosts by winning this quadrangular tournament with four straight victories.

Whatever happens from here, the excited celebrations both before and after captain Caroline O'Hanlon lifted the trophy felt entirely justified from Rice and her players.

The coach changed her starting seven for the first time in this tournament, promoting Michelle Drayne of Hertfordshire Mavericks at wing attack.

Drayne had impressed after being brought on as a half-time sub for Kingsway's Sarah Montgomery in the previous game.

The same magnificent seven stayed on the court throughout in spite of numerous knocks against a physically formidable Barbados side.

But the home players showed huge heart in repeatedly putting their bodies on the line and were rewarded with the win which could yet seal their tickets to Australia.

Northern Ireland led 9-8 after the first quarter, also edged the second quarter by a single goal and then took the third 11-6 to lead by seven at the last break.

Barbados were far from finished, however, and narrowed the deficit to two on three occasions before the final whistle brought relief for the exhausted heroes, who gave everything.

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