Northern Ireland’s hopes of World Cup seventh heaven were dashed yesterday by a 56-38 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in their final fixture in Singapore.
Elaine Rice’s side went into the seventh place play-off fatigued from their herculean efforts the previous night in pushing sixth seeds South Africa all the way.
That 46-41 defeat to a team which yesterday finished fifth in the competition represented a magnificent response to Friday’s 87-16 quarter-final beating by England.
Northern Ireland restored pride with a superb performance but their heroics meant the gallant greens had little left in the tank when returning to the court just 12 hours later to face eighth-ranked Trinidad. They actually had 71 attempts on goal compared to 65 for their opponents yet the Caribbean crew emerged 56-38 winners thanks to displaying much more accuracy in the shooting circle.
Prolific captain Noleen Lennon, who finished the tournament with 177 goals, was switched temporarily to goalkeeper and none of the other three shooters used bettered a 50% return.
Although well contained by Micaela Brunton and Fionnuala Toner, being more clinical enabled Trinidad to relentlessly build a lead which had widened to 30-22 at half-time from 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Trinidad outscored them 14-5 to take a 17-goal lead into an even, but by then academic, final quarter to record a winning margin similar to when the teams last met, in Singapore at the 2007 Nations Cup.
However, the big breakthrough in reaching the quarter-finals meant they finished four places above their world ranking and the three defeats before yesterday came against teams who made the top five.
Trinidad are one of only five nations to have reached a World Cup final, losing to New Zealand in Glasgow in 1987, so they have proven pedigree in the competition.
“The players are feeling a bit sore after that, but finishing eighth in a World Cup is a real achievement and I believe this squad can develop further,” said Rice.
“We didn’t play particularly well against Trinidad but having such a hard game last night inevitably took its toll physically and mentally. Against South Africa, the girls played their guts out and it’s agonising to come so close.”
World Cup holders Australia retained the trophy with a last gasp 58-57 extra time victory over top seeds New Zealand while England secured third place by beating Jamaica 70-49.