Improvements giving NI confidence, insists Ryan
Northern Ireland were going into this morning's crunch clash with Barbados in positive spirits despite three defeats in as many days at the World Cup in Liverpool.
Being edged out 51-49 by Zimbabwe was a big blow last Sunday and, although the PwC Warriors came close to overcoming Malawi the next morning to regain ground, they eventually lost 47-43.
Those agonising near misses effectively ended Northern Ireland's hopes of another top-eight finish at a major tournament never mind pushing higher as they had hoped.
The Warriors were never going to get back to winning ways against global giants New Zealand on Tuesday, but coach Dan Ryan was delighted with the fighting spirit shown by his girls in green.
Although beaten 78-29, being outscored just 16-11 in the last quarter after a defiant flourish sent the squad into yesterday's first rest day feeling better.
Another positive was the fact that the entire squad got game time against New Zealand with several players putting up their hands for starting spots.
The BBC pundits felt that teenager Michelle Magee's strong second-half showing alongside Fionnuala Toner in the back circle could put Northern Ireland legend Gemma Lawlor under pressure for the goalkeeper position.
Ryan also praised the impact of third-choice goal shooter Ciara Crosbie, who had hardly featured before but took her chance confidently in an eye-catching cameo.
One reason Crosbie hasn't had much court time in Liverpool has been the hugely encouraging emergence of Emma Magee as an international goal attack of real substance.
If her then-schoolgirl sister Michelle was Northern Ireland netball's big breakout star of last year's Commonwealth Games, Emma has undoubtedly been the story of this World Cup campaign.
The 21-year-old has established herself as an impressive presence around the edge of the attacking circle, combining well with captain Caroline O'Hanlon.
Warriors skipper O'Hanlon had hailed Emma Magee as an exciting prospect coming into the tournament and the Westside star has been a real revelation.
Smart, fast and physically strong, she has also shown willingness to take responsibility as a high-volume shooter, whether partnering Noleen Armstrong, Shaunagh Craig or Crosbie.
Northern Ireland's inferior conversion rate under the net cost them against Zimbabwe and Malawi so whoever has got the nod at goal shooter this morning will want improved percentages.
Unlike the sides still in contention to win the World Cup or those battling for fifth place, there are no cross-over semi-finals in the tournament's third tier.
So beating Barbados (8.30am, Sky Sports) will guarantee a top-10 finish and set up a probable showdown with Scotland in Saturday's ninth-place play-off.
Northern Ireland had to come from behind to beat Barbados by 10 at Gold Coast 2018 and won't read too much into their win over the Bajan Gems in a warm-up match at the start of this month.
"We played Barbados before the World Cup and went quite well, though it's a different stage here. But we're playing some good netball and the girls have been improving game to game so can take confidence from that," said Ryan.
Ranked 11th in the world, Barbados began their campaign by beating Singapore 69-34 but have since lost to New Zealand, Malawi, Australia and Zimbabwe.
Both teams had similarly large losses against the Antipodean pair but the Warriors are favourites for a vital victory today.