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Welcome boost for Rice's NI girls

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's netballers bounced back from Saturday's disappointing defeat to clinch the Celtic Clash with a revenge victory over Scotland in Edinburgh.

A comprehensive 51-38 win was enough for Northern Ireland to triumph on aggregate with defender Fionnuala Toner named player of the tournament.

The weekend's two-Test series was arranged to officially launch Scotland's new world-class Oriam High Performance facility but the girls in green spectacularly pooped the party.

Being beaten 44-37 in the opening game in front of a vociferous sell-out crowd wasn't the way recently re-appointed head coach Elaine Rice wanted to start her third spell at the helm.

An injury which temporarily forced new captain Caroline O'Hanlon out of the action compounded the absence of three other mid-court regulars and the Scots took full advantage.

Double defeat for Rice's understrength squad would have left Northern Ireland facing a Commonwealth Games qualification crisis by threatening their top 12 world ranking.

Instead, yesterday's result, ending a run of four consecutive Test defeats dating back to May's Euro whitewash, provides a positive springboard for the road ahead.

Rice even had the luxury of emptying her bench in the last quarter as the same starting seven showed what Northern Ireland are capable of. New vice-captains Toner and Lisa Bowman did well while former skipper Noleen Lennon shone in the unfamiliar role of goal defence after being lured out of international retirement.

Lennon worked well in the back circle with regular goalkeeper Gemma Gibney, now Lawlor since getting married, with the eldest two Bowman sisters up front.

Leading 14-9 after the opening period, Rice's side was 10 up at half-time in yesterday's second Test and had stretched their advantage to a comfortable 40-25 going into the last quarter.

With Neamh Woods, Niamh Cooper, Michelle Drayne and hopefully Oonagh McCullough to add to the Celtic Clash squad, Northern Ireland can build upon this impressive victory.

Belfast Telegraph

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