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Noleen Lennon backs Northern Ireland girls to take on the world


Caroline Hanlon, Noleen Lennon, Kyla Bowman and Oonagh McCullough

Caroline Hanlon, Noleen Lennon, Kyla Bowman and Oonagh McCullough

Brian Little

Caroline Hanlon, Noleen Lennon, Kyla Bowman and Oonagh McCullough

Skipper Noleen Lennon insists her Northern Ireland team can handle the tag of favourites when their netball World Cup campaign gets under way with Monday's opening group game against Sri Lanka.

Ranked 12th in the world to their opponents 15th, Lennon's ladies look well-placed to get off to a winning start in Pool A, which also contains holders Australia and Samoa.

But although Sri Lanka lost 68-41 in Scotland last month against a side the girls in green had beaten 50-40 in April's European Championships at the Antrim Forum Lennon is taking nothing for granted.

"We want to hit the ground running and should be backing ourselves to beat Sri Lanka, but we'll treat them with real respect and aren't thinking beyond this match," said the captain.

As a result of Northern Ireland's impressive progress in the past couple of years, there's a bigger burden of expectation on the team than ever before but Lennon insists it's positive pressure.

"Last summer there was a fear factor when we went to the World Cup qualifying event in Glasgow because we couldn't afford not to qualify but this time it's all about the opportunity and I want us to play positively."

They certainly did so against Singapore in yesterday's second and final warm-up match, the hosts having no answer to Northern Ireland's rhythm and urgency as they raced clear to lead by 19 at half-time and win 51-30.

Most of the pre-match focus is on Sri Lanka's 6'9" goalshooter, who will have a 10-inch advantage over goalkeeper Gemma Gibney, but Northern Ireland intend to ensure much more of the action is in the other circle.

Who shares shooting responsibilities with Lennon is one of the positive selection headaches exercising coach Elaine Rice as the competition for places increases.

With Oonagh McCullough of Graduates making such an impact at the European Championships, she could get the nod at goal attack which would mean Caroline O'Hanlon starting in the centre of the court and vice-captain Lisa McCaffrey missing out.

Belfast Telegraph