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NI Warriors dig deep to net win and make top 10

Northern Ireland 46 Barbados 43

Within reach: Northern Ireland’s Ciara Crosbie (left) battles with Barbados’ Rhe-Ann Niles-Mapp
Within reach: Northern Ireland’s Ciara Crosbie (left) battles with Barbados’ Rhe-Ann Niles-Mapp
Caroline O'Hanlon

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's most experienced campaigners really stood up to be counted as the girls in green got back to winning ways at the Netball World Cup.

Dan Ryan's side had to dig deep to subdue Barbados but guaranteed themselves a top 10 finish with a vital 46-43 victory after being behind six times in the first half.

The PWC sponsored Warriors will now face another Caribbean country, Trinidad & Tobago, in tomorrow's ninth place play-off after a dramatic draw between the Calypso Girls and the Scottish Thistles.

Scotland got an equalising goal in the last couple of seconds but because of an inferior goal average to Trinidad they ended up bottom of Group G.

Earlier it had also been tense stuff for most of the hour but the Warriors showed real resilience in coming through a stern test against opponents they had never beaten before at a World Cup.

Noleen Armstrong nailed each of her first 16 shots while, at the other end, Gemma Lawlor broke Barbados hearts by coming up with a series of crucial steals.

On Tuesday, former captains Lawlor and Amstrong were watching from the bench as some of the younger guns gave as good as they got against New Zealand in an uplifting last quarter.

BBC pundit Sara Bayman advocated leaving Lawlor out for yesterday's final second phase fixture after teenager Michelle Magee had forged an effective combination with Fionnuala Toner in the back circle.

In the event, Lawlor retained the goalkeeper position but fellow veteran Armstrong was benched with Shaunagh Craig getting the nod to start at goal shooter.

Craig got three of her four shots in the opening period but, with the former England age group player not getting into the game enough, Ryan turned to Armstrong for the second quarter.

It took time for the 35-year-old to feature much on the scoreboard either, with her second chance not coming until the final four minutes before half-time.

From there though, the Portaferry woman went on something of a scoring spree and didn't miss a shot until drawing two blanks in quick succession midway through the last period.

By then the Warriors were five ahead and Ryan brought Emma Magee, given a brief breather for the first time since the opening match, back on alongside Armstrong to close the game out.

So impressive at this tournament, the young goal attack came through a difficult start against Barbados, missing two of her first four shots as the opposition took a three goal lead on four occasions.

However, this 21-year-old isn't a player who lets her head drop or hides away and she netted with all but one of her next 14 attempts.

Trailing 13-12 after the opening period, the Warriors would have gone into the main interval ahead but took too long engineering their last shot so it was 23-23.

Armstrong got the opening goal of the third quarter after 21 seconds and from there Northern Ireland, for whom Neamh Woods replaced Michelle Drayne at wing attack six minutes before half-time, were always ahead.

Ryan gave vice-captain Fionnuala Toner her first break of the week, bringing in Michelle Magee for the third quarter and keeping Niamh Cooper on at wing defence.

With the Warriors four up, Ciara Crosbie relieved Emma Magee at goal attack four minutes from the end of the penultimate period and Toner replaced Cooper at wing defence for the last quarter.

It began with Northern Ireland leading 35-31 and they went six ahead six times but Barbados scored three goals in a row to keep it interesting in the closing stages.

However, the greatest alarm in the last minute was Warriors captain Caroline O'Hanlon, who had earlier taken a couple of blows to the face, appearing in a lot of pain after falling hard.

A highly influential figure as always, O'Hanlon was hobbling badly for a few moments but the inspirational skipper saw out the last 25 seconds until the shooter brought relief for Ryan.

Belfast Telegraph

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