Nerves and fatigue kicked in but we can hold our heads high: O'Hanlon
There was to be no seventh heaven for Northern Ireland's netballers at the Commonwealth Games yesterday as overcoming Malawi just proved to be a bridge too far.
The girls in green needed to beat the African favourites in the play-off for seventh spot to emulate their superb placing last time at Glasgow 2014 but narrowly lost 60-52.
It was always likely to be a daunting task against the sixth seeds, who had caused a huge upset against 2010 gold medallists New Zealand a few days earlier.
Indeed Malawi would have been in the semi-finals but for a surprise 54-52 reversal against Gold Coast 2018's surprise package Uganda in the pool phase.
Against such strong opposition, Northern Ireland needed a fast start but captain Caroline O'Hanlon afterwards reflected with frustration on a 'flat first quarter' from her team.
Malawi led 18-12 at the first interval and were 10 up at half-time but Elaine Rice's underdogs responded superbly in closing the gap to just four in the third period.
Northern Ireland effectively matched Malawi in most stats, including creating 65 shooting opportunities to the opposition's 68, but it wasn't quite enough for a famous scalp.
"That slow start really killed us and although we battled back well, we left ourselves with just too much to do against a team of that quality," said O'Hanlon.
"They have an unorthodox style, which we took time to adjust to, and were exceptionally physical. I think nerves affected us and maybe a slight fatigue factor after a hard week.
"We really went after them in the second half and, although there are real regrets right now, we can still take some satisfaction from finishing eighth here.
"It has been an unforgettable experience, playing in a fantastic arena and a phenomenal atmosphere against some of the best sides in the world.
"You always want more but we can come away with our heads held high after finishing above both Scotland and Wales and in line with our world ranking of eighth."
O'Hanlon and her Malawi flag-bearing counterpart from last week's opening ceremony, Joyce Mvula, will soon be back on the same side chasing British SuperLeague glory with Manchester Thunder.
Lisa Bowman, who netted 33 of her 38 shots yesterday, and Michelle Drayne return to Team Northumbria and Hertfordshire Mavericks respectively.