Belfast Telegraph

Legend Lennon reverses retirement to answer Northern Ireland's World Cup call after nightmare injury blow

 

Comeback: Noleen Lennon
Comeback: Noleen Lennon

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland netball legend Noleen Lennon has answered her country's call by coming out of international retirement to play in this month's World Cup.

The 35-year-old from Portaferry has been drafted into Dan Ryan's squad as replacement for the injured Lisa Bowman ahead of the tournament in Liverpool.

Star shooter Bowman broke an ankle in a recent training accident, leaving the Warriors short of forward fire-power, but Lennon is the perfect replacement.

Northern Ireland captain at their last World Cup finals appearance in Singapore eight years ago, Lennon packed in international netball after last year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Although Lennon captained Belfast Ladies in this past season's NI Premier League, she had other plans for the summer after getting married last month.

So Ryan initially looked elsewhere, with an attempt to draft in Ellen Halpenny, a Kiwi with Northern Irish ancestry and former team-mate of Caroline O'Hanlon at British SuperLeague side Scottish Sirens.

Halpenny won a silver medal with her native New Zealand at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games but, under international netball eligibility rules, could declare for Northern Ireland.

It is understood the former Silver Ferns shooter was interested in coming on board but, having retired from professional netball last year, her new employers wouldn't facilitate prolonged leave.

So Lennon, who like current captain O'Hanlon is a veteran of the 2003 World Cup in Jamaica, was persuaded to put her honeymoon on hold and help her country out of a crisis.

Lennon now heads up Netball NI's high-performance programme, including line-managing the national coach, so Ryan has effectively called up his boss for the tournament!

With the competition so close and Lennon not on the original long list, special permission had to be obtained from the International Netball Federation to draft her into the squad.

Clearance came through in time for Noleen to take the court, under her new name of Armstrong, in Lisburn on Saturday as Northern Ireland crushed Isle of Man 82-10 in their farewell friendly.

Armstrong got game-time at both ends, alternating between goalkeeper, her role in recent years, and lead shooter, where she was so effective at that 2011 World Cup.

Although Bowman has been Northern Ireland's regular goal shooter since her prolific feats at Glasgow 2014, it was actually Lennon who fired the girls in green to qualification for this World Cup.

Bowman missed the European regional qualifier in January last year, also due to an ankle injury, and Lennon shot Northern Ireland to a decisive victory over Wales.

Former English Under 21 international Shaunagh Craig, ex-NI Under 21 captain Emma Magee and another promising prospect Ciara Crosbie are the other shooters in Ryan's squad of 12 which leaves for England this Wednesday.

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