'Tough pill to swallow': Northern Ireland finish Netball World Cup on a sour note
Northern Ireland's Netball World Cup campaign ended in a disappointing 57-48 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago in Saturday's ninth-place play-off.
For a third time in this Liverpool tournament, Northern Ireland had more shots than the opposition but ended up on the losing side thanks to an inferior conversion rate.
Trinidad's Samantha Wallace, a full-time professional netballer with Sydney Swifts, netted 36 of her 38 attempts while Player of the Match Kalifa McCollin had a perfect return of 20 from 20.
Late sub Tahirah Hollingsworth also scored with her only shot, so the Calypso Girls were on nearly 97 per cent in contrast to 79 for the Warriors.
Things had begun brightly for Dan Ryan's side, playing in front of a big crowd straight after England's loss to New Zealand in the second pulsating semi-final of the day.
They stormed into a four-goal lead early on and were still two ahead with six minutes left in the opening period when apparent disaster struck.
Captain Caroline O'Hanlon hobbled off after replays showed the world-class centre turning her ankle alarmingly and an understandably rattled Northern Ireland soon fell behind.
But they battled back to lead 13-12 at the first break and the Warriors received an enormous boost as O'Hanlon somehow made it back onto the court for the second quarter.
Considering she turns 35 in a few weeks and how tough it will be to qualify for Cape Town 2023, this may have been O'Hanlon's last World Cup appearance and she was able to end it on her feet.
That second period proved disastrous, however, with Trinidad outscoring the Warriors 17-10 over those 15 minutes and Northern Ireland never really recovered.
"I thought we started the game relatively well and then lost the plot in the second quarter. When you're up against a team with Sammy Wallace as their goal-shooter it's hard to come back from a deficit like that," reflected Ryan.
"From there we were in survival mode, trying to work really hard to get turnovers and then everything else is pressurised and it makes the job really difficult.
"At the start of the week we had opportunities to have a very different outcome to this tournament but ended up the wrong side of a couple of close contests.
"We came here with lofty expectations and definitely felt we could make the top eight so not finishing ninth is another tough pill to swallow."
His side halved the deficit to three but later went 10 down before the last three goals of Noleen Armstrong's 16-year World Cup career made it 36-43 at the final interval.
Armstrong and long-serving goalkeeper Gemma Lawlor were withdrawn ahead of the last period, with Shaunagh Craig coming on up front, Niamh Cooper returning to a reshuffled defence and Neamh Woods introduced at wing attack.
The changes couldn't turn the tide though and Northern Ireland lost a third consecutive quarter as they ended the tournament with just two wins from seven matches, albeit two were against the eventual World Cup finalists.
At face value this campaign promised much and delivered little yet the statistics, especially chances created, suggest the Warriors weren't that far from finishing a superb sixth instead of a disappointing 10th.
The girls in green have created almost unreasonable expectations by repeatedly punching above their weight at international level this decade but undoubtedly need more resources and regular games.