Belfast Telegraph

Netball: Ladies report for tour duty in red hot form

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's netballers will go into next week's Caribbean tour with increased confidence on the back of their impressive exploits in the British SuperLeague.

Kate Carpenter's side are due to face two of the world's top 10 nations, Trinidad and Barbados, in their own backyard in a tough triangular tournament.

But more than half of the touring party will go into the competition boosted by their successful start to the new SuperLeague season with Team Northumbria.

Five Northern Ireland players started in Monday night's Sky-televised thriller as visitors Northumbria tenaciously clinched victory in a photo-finish against Yorkshire Jets in Hull.

Northumbria won an epic encounter 52-50 with captain Noleen Lennon holding her nerve to net crucial chances in the closing stages.

Her shooting partner Oonagh McCullough won the Player of the Match award while experienced centre Caroline O'Hanlon worked relentlessly throughout.

Northern Ireland captain, goalkeeper Gemma Gibney, was a steadying influence at the back while her young compatriots Niamh Cooper and Fionnuala Toner were rotated in defence.

Trailing 12-4 at one point in the opening period, Northumbria fought back to lead at half time but the Jets took the third quarter and the teams were level entering the final few minutes.

It was a second victory in 48 hours for last season's strugglers Northumbria, who had beaten Cardiff franchise Celtic Dragons 62-52 in last Saturday's first home match in Newcastle.

The influx of Northern Ireland stars has transformed the fortunes of the Tyneside franchise, who finished bottom of the eight teams in 2013 but have had an impressive start to the new campaign.

"It was a very physical contest against the Jets but we battled hard and made our presence felt right across the court," reflected McCullough.

"We made a very slow start but strongly made our mark in the second quarter and never really lost our momentum even though the Jets fought back. It was a great game and I'm delighted we were able to take the win in the closing stages for, as well as securing an important result for the team, you gain invaluable experience in closing out tight games like this.

"We're really benefiting from being involved in SuperLeague. The challenge now is to build on these two wins when we travel to play Loughborough Lightning this Saturday."

Carpenter's squad for that tour includes her seven Northumbria players plus Northern Ireland vice-captain Hannah Willis, Larkfield goal machine Lisa Somerville and teenage goalkeeper Olivia McDonald.

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