Belfast Telegraph

Thrilling draw as Elaine Rice targets Euro progress

Northern Ireland 58-58 Wales

By Richard Bullick

Coach Elaine Rice was left with mixed emotions after Northern Ireland got their European Open campaign under way by drawing an absolute thriller with Wales at Antrim Forum.

Trailing going into the last quarter, the gallant greens had battled back to take the lead as sub shooter Sarah Montgomery willingly shouldered responsibility in a nail-biting finish.

However Wales levelled again at 53-53 before Lisa Bowman had a chance to snatch victory for the hosts right on the whistle but the ball agonisingly came back off the rim.

Not nailing what would have been a last-gasp winner was tough for Bowman who had netted 43 of her previous 50 shots to look like being the hero against Wales once again.

The Larkfield forward had scored 46 goals as Northern Ireland stunned Wales with a 58-36 trouncing in the seventh-place play-off at last summer's Commonwealth Games.

Wales went into yesterday's revenge bid as favourites, four places higher in the world rankings than a Northern Ireland team in transition after failing to qualify for this summer's World Cup.

Rice could call on only half the Commonwealths squad but was hugely encouraged by how the fresh faces made significant contributions to a promising effort first up in this tounament.

Tyrone gaelic captain Neamh Woods showed what a fine all-round sportswoman she is and another newcomer, Montgomery, made an impression in that frenetic finale.

"We've lost some experienced players since Glasgow 2014 but I was confident the girls coming in were fit for this level of netball and they justified that faith," reflected Rice.

"Neamh Woods was excellent and the three who came off the bench underlined that there's still depth in this squad in spite of the names missing.

"When we were chasing it in the last quarter, a draw would have been a relief but then we edged in front and had that chance right at the end so you get greedy.

"It wasn't to be but I can't fault Lisa's consistent shooting which kept us in the frame throughout what was a tight game with plenty of pressure on the players."

The Welsh shooting stats were sensational with all but one of their 54 chances taken while Northern Ireland had 13 misses.

Wales scored the first three goals but Northern Ireland hit back to lead 9-5 and went into the first break one up before extending their advantage to seven in the second quarter.

It was 30-27 at half-time but Wales were ahead for prolonged periods in the second half, with a share of the spoils probably a fair result.

Northern Ireland also drew with Wales on their last visit to Antrim Forum for the 2011 European Championships during Rice's first stint as coach.

"A win would have been the perfect platform but at least we haven't been beaten," Rice said.

Northern Ireland have a demanding double-header today, firstly facing Scotland (10.30am) before taking on second seeds South Africa (6.30pm).

NORTHERN IRELAND: G Gibney (capt), F Toner, N Cooper, C O'Hanlon, N Woods, K Bowman, L Bowman. Subs: D McCarthy for Cooper, M Drayne for McCarthy, S Montgomery for K Bowman.

RESULTS: England 63 Trinidad & Tobago 42, Scotland 45 South Africa 34, Northern Ireland 53 Wales 53, England 69 South Africa 33.

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