Belfast Telegraph

McCullough shows that future is bright for NI, insists Magee

In hand: NI Under-21 captain Rebecca McCullough (centre) flanked by Frances Keenan (left) and Michelle Magee
In hand: NI Under-21 captain Rebecca McCullough (centre) flanked by Frances Keenan (left) and Michelle Magee

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland face impossible odds in their opening game of the European Under-21 Championships in Worcester this evening (7pm) against hosts England, but the more winnable matches come over the weekend.

Last October, the emerging greens bounced back from a chastening Netball World Youth Cup campaign in Botswana a few months earlier by beating Wales to claim bronze medals at Antrim Forum.

The outcome could have been even better for new head coach Hannah Willis and her squad as Northern Ireland had earlier come close to victory over Scotland before falling just short.

With Willis staying at the helm and all but two of that starting seven, team captain Emma Magee and Fionnuala Crosbie, still eligible, there are high hopes that Northern Ireland can bring back more medals.

That would mean overcoming at least one of their Celtic cousins, with the Scottish clash coming tomorrow (4pm) and the final fixture against Wales starting 18 hours later.

Established senior star Michelle Magee said: "Most of this group have been together since we went to Gibraltar in 2015 with the Under-17s, so we're tight like a club team at this stage."

Still just 19, Magee already has a Commonwealth Games and World Cup under her belt, and will provide valuable experience over the next few days.

Three of this squad for Worcester featured for Dan Ryan's PwC Warriors at last week's senior European Championships when Under-21 skipper Rebecca McCullough and teenage forward Frances Keenan won their first caps.

"Rebecca is a brilliant captain for us and an excellent player who can have a big future for Northern Ireland. Getting game time together last weekend should stand to us here," reflected Magee.

"That tournament didn't go as well for the Warriors as we would have liked, so we're really relishing the chance to pull on the green dress again so soon for the Under-21s."

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