O'Hanlon injury rubs salt in NI's World Cup wounds
Australia 88 Northern Ireland 24
Northern Ireland coach Dan Ryan has been left sweating over the fitness of captain Caroline O'Hanlon for this morning's crunch clash with Sri Lanka at the World Cup.
The campaign began with a predictable defeat as the Warriors went down 88-24 against champions Australia in yesterday's opening group game in Liverpool.
At times it felt like women against girls as Northern Ireland battled bravely but understandably struggled to live with their fully professional, physically superior opponents.
This toughest of first fixtures was always a lost cause compared to the winnable battles ahead, against Sri Lanka today (9.25am) and dangerous Zimbabwe tomorrow (3.25pm).
So the damage done on the scoreboard by the awesome Aussies was of less concern to Ryan and Warriors supporters than the sight of O'Hanlon having to be helped off in the third quarter.
O'Hanlon had hit the floor hard after a sickening collision in mid-air which saw an opposing player's elbow catch her in the face as both women went for the ball at full tilt.
Initially laid out for a period, a shaken O'Hanlon was able to walk off court after lengthy treatment and took up position on the bench for the remainder of the game.
However, with head injuries rightly taken seriously, her well-being was continuing to be monitored for possible after-effects though there were no initial indications of actual concussion.
With such a condensed competition, concussion could effectively end O'Hanlon's tournament but she attended the afternoon's official opening ceremony which was another positive sign.
"It was a massive hit, a massive fall but from all reports at this stage she's okay so we'll just assess again and see how she pulls up. Obviously she's huge to our campaign so fingers crossed she's fit for tomorrow," said Ryan after the heavy defeat against his compatriots.
The coach admitted that tackling Australia was an enormous step up in class for his girls in green, who had been beaten 94-26 by the Diamonds on the opening night of last year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
"We knew it would be very tough and it was an onslaught from start to finish, for they're relentless. Nothing fully prepares players for facing Australia because you can't feel their intensity until you experience it," he said.
"The Diamonds were on everything and made us work for every single ball but at times we put ourselves under pressure with the decisions we made.
"You can't out-run or out-muscle the Diamonds but the ball can beat anyone and we didn't always use it well enough. However it was a great opportunity which my players will learn from."
Ryan was without late call-up Noleen Armstrong, absent due to prior commitments, so two major tournament newcomers, Shaunagh Craig and Emma Magee, were paired up front.
Magee's younger sister Michelle partnered Gemma Lawlor in the back circle with vice-captain Fionnuala Toner and Lisa McCaffrey flanking O'Hanlon in mid-court.
Australia scored the game's first seven goals inside three minutes before Craig, who converted 18 of her 22 shots, and Magee each netted in quick succession and another apiece made it 10-4.
However the Diamonds surged away again and Ryan replaced McCaffrey with Neamh Woods before the end of the first break which came at 24-7.
The world champions made a blistering start to the second quarter also, scoring an unanswered 11 before Craig replied in the sixth minute, and they led 45-14 at half-time.
Niamh Cooper came on for the third quarter with Toner switching to goal defence but the loss of O'Hanlon really rattled the Warriors, who were outscored 22-4.
Woods had gone to centre with McCaffrey coming back on at wing attack and the last quarter saw Ciara Crosbie handed her World Cup debut up front beside Craig, and Michelle Magee replaced Lawlor.
Going into the final few minutes it looked like the Diamonds might beat their Gold Coast margin but Ryan's side finished strongly to avoid that fate.
NI will be up against 6'11" shooter Tharjini Sivalingam this morning but Zimbabwe beat Sri Lanka 79-49 yesterday so that looks like the tougher game.