Northern Ireland remain on course to justify their second-seed status at netball’s European Championships after an emphatic 50-40 victory over Scotland at the Antrim Forum yesterday.
Having hit the front during the first quarter, Elaine Rice’s side never lost the lead though the coach insisted afterwards that she hadn’t believed the game was in the bag until the final few minutes, given painful memories of late ambushes by the Scots in previous clashes.
The girls in green suffered tartan torment at last year’s equivalent event in Cardiff but, including yesterday’s success, Northern Ireland have now won four of their last five fixtures against Scotland — though this was the first by a double-digit margin.
Given the high expectations generated by the successes of the past 18 months and the excitement of playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in over four years, nervous Northern Ireland were banking on a strong start.
And skipper Noleen Lennon led by example, registering the first of her 13 first-quarter goals — she scored 36 in total — after only 19 seconds and although the Scots surged back briefly to edge 4-2 in front, they were well beaten by the end.
Leading 16-11 at the first break, a shared second quarter kept Lennon’s ladies five in front at half-time and the introduction of several substitutes did little to break Northern Ireland’s momentum, much to the delight of a vocal crowd.
Oonagh McCullough made the most of her introduction at goal attack for the final quarter, notching six goals to further increase pressure for starting spots in Rice’s team ahead of this afternoon’s daunting assignment against tournament favourites England.
The holders have, traditionally, been in a league of their own within European netball but, with yesterday’s win taking the pressure off, the girls in green will want to have a real crack at the world’s third-ranked team this afternoon (2pm).