Belfast Telegraph

McCullough's comeback is a big boost for NI ahead of Euro bid

 

By Richard Bullick

Formidable forward Oonagh McCullough makes a welcome return to the Northern Ireland netball squad for the European Championships, which get under way in Cardiff today.

Now working in Scotland as a doctor, Knockbreda woman McCullough hasn't featured for her country since the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She subsequently spent a year in Australia, and remained unavailable thereafter, but has now been persuaded to come back on board by coach Elaine Rice.

The return of such an experienced player ahead of the most intense competitive period the team have ever faced is a boost.

After the Euros, Northern Ireland's next assignment is January's World Cup regional qualifying event in Scotland followed by the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

The girls in green qualified for the Gold Coast Games by beating Barbados in the final of June's Quad Series tournament, which also took them into the top 10 of the world rankings.

Captain Caroline O'Hanlon is hoping her team can carry their confidence into the Euros, with runners-up the realistic target.

England will be expected to retain their title, but victories over Wales and Scotland would earn Northern Ireland silver medals for only the second time.

They begin against hosts Wales tonight (6.30pm) before facing England tomorrow (8pm) and finishing with the Scottish clash on Sunday (10am). On Saturday (10.30am), Northern Ireland will face Fiji, who have been brought over on an invitational basis.

The tournament will be streamed online by the BBC for the first time.

Rice's squad shows two changes from the Quad Series final, with McCullough coming in for Emma Magee, whose sister Michelle replaces Deborah McCarthy.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Caroline O'Hanlon (capt), Fionnuala Toner, Gemma Gibney, Noleen Lennon, Michelle Magee, Niamh Cooper, Neamh Woods, Michelle Drayne, Sarah Montgomery, Oonagh McCullough, Kyla Bowman, Lisa Bowman.

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