Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland netball manager set to keep star shooter at net-minder

By Richard Bullick

Star shooter Noleen Lennon looks likely to be used as emergency net-minder by Northern Ireland boss Kate Carpenter in this week's International Festival of Netball at the Antrim Forum.

How to fill the goalkeeping vacancy created by captain Gemma Gibney's absence with a knee injury is the biggest dilemma facing coach Carpenter coming into this prestigious invitational tournament.

Moving the prolific Lennon, her country's top goal-getter of all time, out of the shooting circle certainly reduces the potency of Northern Ireland's attack but is arguably the least worst option for the team.

Significantly, Lennon was deployed as goalkeeper from the off as Northern Ireland warmed up for the Festival by beating their Republic counterparts 83-34 in Dublin.

That suggests Carpenter will utilise her there this week with Lisa Bowman handed the key role of chief shooter having recently returned after a double maternity break of four seasons from international netball.

Although understandably lacking international match fitness, Bowman, the oldest of three sisters to have played for Northern Ireland, has sufficient experience, physical presence and shooting skills to hold her own.

Carpenter's pragmatic view appears to be that Bowman can deputise as goal-shooter more effectively than anyone else in the squad can cover keeper in the absence of Gibney and Deborah McCarthy.

Of the alternatives, rookie Maeve McQuillan only won her first cap off the bench against the Republic and regular goal defence Frances Campbell lacks height. Lennon's agility makes her more suited to switching circles than Bowman.

When the outstanding Lennon left the defensive circle for the final period in Dublin, Northern Ireland alarmingly leaked goals though here that only meant their margin of victory being cut to under 50.

It will be much tighter this week with two of Northern Ireland's opponents ranked in the world's top 12 so with issues at either end of the court, Carpenter is hoping for good news in the middle.

World-class centre Caroline O'Hanlon has been in a race to recover from broken ribs sustained playing ladies gaelic and it would be a massive boost if the European Player of 2010 is passed fit.

Even with O'Hanlon absent, Carpenter chose not to start acting captain Hannah Willis in Dublin as Belfast Ladies duo Cathy McLean and Maire Toner got a rare run in the engine-room of the team.

Bowman needs her Larkfield club captain O'Hanlon and the Graduates pair of Willis and bustling goal attack Oonagh McCullough working hard to create chances for her.

Carpenter's preparations for this week's event have been badly disrupted by injuries and, with regular rivals Fionnuala Toner and Michelle Drayne both nursing niggles, Northern Ireland Under-21 captain Niamh Cooper started the Dublin friendly at wing defence.

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