Belfast Telegraph

NI daring to dream about World goal

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's netballers will go into this weekend's regional qualifier for the 2019 World Cup at an all-time high of eighth place in the world rankings.

The new ranking reflects a very successful last seven months for Elaine Rice's side, who have qualified for the Commonwealth Games and won European Championship silver medals.

Breaking into the top eight for the first time ever is an outstanding achievement for a small netball nation which has repeatedly punched above its weight in recent years.

The girls in green have been shortlisted for the Team of the Year prize at this month's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

With Gold Coast qualification already in the bag, Northern Ireland's focus has switched to securing their tickets to the next World Cup finals after missing out on Sydney 2015.

Northern Ireland will face familiar rivals in Perth - hosts Scotland as well as Wales - for the two remaining European places at next year's tournament in Liverpool.

Close contests are expected after last October's European Championships at which Northern Ireland edged both teams by single goal margins.

However Rice's women will go into the Perth event as the highest ranked of the three teams thanks to a superb 2017 during which they won nine of their 10 Test matches.

Northern Ireland's only defeat last year was to a fully professional English side, and more than half of their nine victories came against teams in the world's top 12, including Fiji.

Back in June they beat formidable Barbados twice en route to lifting the Quad Series trophy, a triumph which clinched qualification for this spring's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Their success continued at the European Championships in Cardiff where Northern Ireland claimed the runners-up place behind the English.

This was only the second time in nearly 40 attempts that Northern Ireland had finished second at the annual Euro event, and they showed fantastic character to edge two exceptionally tight games.

Star shooter Lisa Bowman nervelessly nailed the winning goal in the last 20 seconds of both matches as Northern Ireland overcame hosts Wales 47-46 and Scotland 46-45.

Bowman won the Female Sports Forum monthly award for October and has been shortlisted in the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year category for the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

So too has captain Caroline O'Hanlon, Northern Ireland's world-class centre and most capped player who doubles up as one of Ireland's leading gaelic footballers with three All Stars to her name.

Now in her third spell at the helm, the inspirational Rice has been shortlisted in the Manager/Coach category having already been crowned Sport NI's High Performance Coach of the Year.

Belfast Telegraph


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