Belfast Telegraph

Only the best from Northern Ireland will secure ninth place at Netball World Cup: Ryan

 

Sureshot: Noleen Armstrong in action against Barbados
Sureshot: Noleen Armstrong in action against Barbados

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland head coach Dan Ryan will be demanding full intensity from his team right from the off in this afternoon's ninth place play-off at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool.

The Warriors take on Trinidad & Tobago (5.15pm) knowing they must perform for the full hour if they are to finish this campaign on a winning note.

Since coming third in a tough group containing South Africa and Jamaica, Trinidad have only lost narrowly to sixth seeds Uganda, fought hard against England and drawn with Scotland.

Ryan is well aware that blowing hot and cold like they did in Thursday morning's 46-43 victory over Barbados won't be enough for his side against a strong Trinidad team.

"It was a really ugly game and a scrappy performance from us, though Barbados did come out with real intent and played well," reflected Ryan.

"We struggled to get into the game early and made a lot of sloppy errors that were really frustrating to watch, so we'll definitely need to be better in this play-off match. At times the team were in cruise control, looking like they were in slow motion, not punching onto the ball or showing the intensity in defence required at this level.

"When we had to step up and turn it on we did, with big intercepts as always from Caroline O'Hanlon and some beautiful shooting from Noleen Armstrong.

"I was happy with the win but it could have been a more convincing victory if we'd hit the levels the players are capable of from the first whistle.

"In these tournaments you must maintain intensity throughout games and we need to become more clinical and not keep making the same mistakes, for they'll get punished."

A tough task-master he may be, but the Aussie is proud of how his players have reacted to the deep disappointment of failing to hit the heights they had hoped to.

Northern Ireland arrived in Liverpool confident of emulating their top eight finishes at their last three major tournaments and ambitious to push higher.

Last Sunday's disastrous 51-49 defeat against the World Cup's surprise package Zimbabwe followed by an agonising 47-43 near miss against Malawi next morning were big blows.

"It's tough when you underachieve on original targets but they've picked themselves up well," said Ryan, whose side subsequently battled bravely against New Zealand before beating Barbados.

With world rankings determining qualification for Commonwealth Games and potentially affecting funding from Sport NI, placings certainly count at these tournaments.

Finishing ninth here would still be an achievement on what will be an emotional occasion with several stalwart Warriors set for their final appearance on the biggest stage.

Today's match will presumably bring the curtain down on a 16-year World Cup career for Singapore 2011 captain Armstrong, who answered an SOS to come out of international retirement for this tournament.

The 35-year-old answered her country's call when Lisa Bowman broke her ankle last month and nailed all but two of her 21 shots against Barbados.

√When Tracey Neville took over as England netball coach four years ago she set out ambitious plans to shatter the Antipodean dominance of the sport and deliver her nation's first world crown.

Neville now stands just two wins away from hitting her target as her team prepare to face New Zealand in the semi-final in Liverpool today amid the kind of atmosphere she admits she could scarcely have imagined.

A succession of 10,000-sell-out crowds have buffeted England through the tournament, including a dominant win over fellow contenders South Africa on Thursday that only served to fuel the fervour around the squad.

Neville said: "My dream was to have a stadium full of red and white and I've never had it in my life, but now we have 10,000 people in the stadium and they are absolutely amazing."

But England will need all the help they can get against the Silver Ferns, who proved in their single-basket defeat to favourites Australia on Thursday that they have emphatically recovered from the misery of missing out on a Commonwealth Games medal for the first time last year.

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