Belfast Telegraph

Willis full of praise as Northern Ireland record famous win

Netball

By Richard Bullick

Proud captain Hannah Willis has hailed the resilience shown by her team in claiming arguably Northern Ireland's greatest ever victory in international netball.

The girls in green came from behind to secure a famous success against a Barbados side ranked eighth in the world in their own Caribbean backyard.

Trailing 20-16 at half-time, the tourists stunned Barbados with a superb performance in the third quarter, which turned the match on its head.

Kate Carpenter's team went on to win 44-35, an ultimately convincing victory which avenged defeat in last November's International Festival final in Antrim.

"We were disappointed to be beaten by Barbados at home but this fantastic result shows how we're learning and improving all the time," reflected a delighted Willis.

"After Antrim we felt we could beat Barbados but to do so by an impressive margin after being behind at half-time is a tribute to this team's resilience and character."

It was a satisfying finish for the tourists who had got their campaign at the triangular tournament off to a losing start against host nation Trinidad.

The umpires made little attempt to curb the excesses of a brutally physical Trinidad team who had roughed up Northern Ireland in the seventh place play-off at the 2011 World Cup.

Northern Ireland lost that clash 56-38 but had hoped to get much closer this time with their top players confident following recent British SuperLeague victories with Northumbria.

However, they fell just short of Trinidad in every quarter to the delight of a partisan crowd in Tacarigua and eventually lost 51-39.

Carpenter kept faith with the same starting seven for the game against Barbados, the six Northumbria regulars joined by experienced wing attack Willis.

Having skippered the side in Gemma Gibney's injury-enforced absence last November, Willis retained the captaincy in spite of her Graduates clubmate's return to fitness.

Northern Ireland temporarily lost goal attack Oonagh McCullough to injury during a disjointed second quarter, Lisa Somerville coming on to partner Noleen Lennon in the shooting circle.

McCullough returned after half-time with Michelle Drayne taking over from Niamh Cooper at wing defence behind her Larkfield captain Caroline O'Hanlon.

The tourists were on fire in the third quarter, outscoring Barbados 18-8 to put them in the box seat entering the final 15 minutes six goals to the good.

An unchanged line-up stretched their advantage still further by taking that last period 10-7 to seal a thoroughly deserved victory.

The Northern Ireland defence deserve special mention for forcing countless turnovers, with Gibney and Fionnuala Toner in the back circle receiving strong support.

These tough games against two of the world's top 10 netballing nations should stand to Northern Ireland ahead of this summer's Commonwealth Games.

Belfast Telegraph

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