Belfast Telegraph

Strong finish in heavy loss shows NI's character: Ryan

New Zealand 77 Northern Ireland 28

Aiming high: Ciara Crosbie takes on New Zealand yesterday
Aiming high: Ciara Crosbie takes on New Zealand yesterday

By Richard Bullick

A defiant flourish from Northern Ireland kept the margin of New Zealand's inevitable victory to under the half century mark in yesterday's World Cup clash in Liverpool.

It finished 77-28 but the Warriors won the hearts of the crowd at the M&S Bank Arena as they took the fight to the revered Silver Ferns in an uplifting last quarter.

The scoreline looked ominous for Dan Ryan's girls in green as the four-time world champions surged away to lead 44-11 at half-time.

But Northern Ireland's amateurs began getting to grips with their full-time professional opponents in the third quarter and really saved their best until last.

Buoyed by an eye-catching cameo from third-choice shooter Ciara Crosbie, the Warriors summoned renewed energy and were only outscored 16-11 in that final period.

Crosbie's last successful conversion with just one second left on the clock kept the final gap to 49 goals, the same margin New Zealand won by when the teams last met at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The team will now take some useful feel-good factor from finishing strongly yesterday into tomorrow morning's crunch clash with Barbados after their first rest day of the tournament.

It has been a tough few days for the PwC Warriors, with two devastating defeats by agonisingly small margins after bruising battles against African sides Zimbabwe and Malawi in a 17-hour period.

Those cruel losses effectively ended Northern Ireland's hopes of emulating the top eight finishes achieved at their last three major tournaments never mind their ambition to push higher here. In such circumstances having to face the superb Silver Ferns on what is now a single court in the arena, live on both BBC Two and Sky Sports, was a daunting prospect.

The Warriors were never going to pull off what would have been the greatest upset in World Cup history to catapult themselves into the fifth to eighth place play-off pot they had set their sights on in advance.

However the sheer scale of the task became clear as New Zealand scored the game's first six goals inside three minutes and Northern Ireland didn't even have a shot until the fifth minute.

Neither Shaunagh Craig, who had come in as goal shooter for veteran Noleen Armstrong, or Emma Magee missed a shot in that opening period but their team still trailed 22-7 at the first break. The Kiwis scored an identical number of times in the second quarter but Northern Ireland's conversion rate dropped, as has been their problem at this tournament, so the gap grew to 33 by the main interval.

Veteran Maria Folau, wife of controversial Australian rugby player Israel Folau, wasn't at her absolute best but still scored heavily for full-strength New Zealand.

Northern Ireland became more effective countering the Silver Ferns in the third quarter, which finished 17-6, but it wasn't until the final period that the Warriors were able to post a double-digit tally. Every underdog goal was greeted with rapturous applause by an appreciative crowd and the Silver Ferns were even made to look untidy at times, much to coach Noeline Taurua's annoyance.

For Ryan, by contrast, this spirited performance provides a platform for the showdown with Barbados, which has a place in Saturday's ninth place play-off at stake.

"We grew into the game as it went on. The last quarter was awesome and it's great to see the fight in this group," declared Ryan. "Sometimes in these situations when the scoreline blows out it's about how you conduct yourself. Our players fought until the very end and it was a positive finish from us.

"Ciara Crosbie came on, who hasn't had much court-time in this tournament, she opened up the circle, the ball started pinging around and they played with great confidence, putting together some beautiful passages of netball."

Another positive was that all 12 squad members got game-time, though understandably Ryan kept his top pair of captain Caroline O'Hanlon and vice-captain Fionnuala Toner on court throughout.

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