Warriors suffer reversal in final World Cup warm-up
Northern Ireland will arrive in Liverpool tomorrow ahead of Friday's World Cup opener against champions Australia on the back of a defeat in their final warm-up match.
Dan Ryan's Warriors were well beaten 53-37 by the Malawi Queens in yesterday's Test match in Cardiff, where they had drawn 49-49 with Trinidad the previous evening.
Captain Caroline O'Hanlon came off injured during the third quarter but should be fit for Friday while a bloodied Emma Magee resumed after requiring running repairs early on.
Trailing 15-7 after the first quarter, the girls in green had a better second period but the powerful Africans still stretched their advantage to 28-17 at the long interval.
Any hopes of a Northern Ireland comeback emphatically ended as they were outscored 13-7 in the third quarter after Ryan made multiple changes.
At least they denied Malawi a clean sweep by edging the last 15 minutes 13-12 and all of the squad except the rehabbing Michelle Drayne got court-time.
Yesterday's reversal was Northern Ireland's first build-up defeat, having beaten Barbados 61-45 and England A 59-54 in their first two warm-up matches before heading to Wales.
Malawi have consistently been a top six side in recent years but have looked vulnerable lately and actually lost 52-47 to hosts Wales on Saturday evening.
Considering Wales were denied 2019 World Cup qualification by Northern Ireland, Warriors fans were hoping their team might deliver a similar result the next day. However, with a potentially significant clash between these teams in a second phase fixture at the World Cup, Ryan may have opted to keep some of his powder dry here.
Veterans Gemma Lawlor and Noleen Armstrong didn't start so that meant a back circle combination of teenager Michelle Magee and vice-captain Fionnuala Toner.
With Drayne still sidelined by damaged ankle ligaments, Niamh Cooper and Lisa McCaffrey flanked O'Hanlon as the mid-court trio.
Emma Magee and Shaunagh Craig were again paired up front in an unchanged starting seven from the Trinidad game the day before. The Warriors had started slowly, trailing their Caribbean opponents by four at the first break, but actually led late on only to be hit by a Trinidad equaliser.
Armstrong, fellow Belfast Ladies shooter Ciara Crosbie and Neamh Woods came off the bench both days with Lawlor also introduced as a Sunday sub.