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Ryan looks to the positives despite latest defeat for NI

 

On court: NI ace Michelle Drayne in action
On court: NI ace Michelle Drayne in action

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland's hopes of finishing in the top eight at the Netball World Cup have effectively ended after another heartbreaking near miss against African opposition.

An inferior conversion rate to their opponents proved very costly yet again as the Warriors went down to Malawi, who won 47-43 despite having fewer shots than Dan Ryan's side.

The big difference between the teams was the great accuracy of star shooter Joyce Mvula, a team-mate of Northern Ireland captain Caroline O'Hanlon at British SuperLeague champions Manchester Thunder.

Mvula nailed all but one of her 31 attempts at goal to opposition number Noleen Armstrong's return of 22 from 29 and the respective percentages for the teams were 92 to 74.

Young goal attack Emma Magee, who has been such a revelation in this tournament, took great responsibility against Zimbabwe but her numbers were down yesterday too.

Former England Under-21 shooter Shaunagh Craig got the final few minutes up front yesterday and may be given more time to show her worth today.

Unless Northern Ireland pull off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history against New Zealand this afternoon (3pm, BBC2), they will be fighting for ninth place at best at the weekend.

Following Sunday's devastating 51-49 defeat by surprise package Zimbabwe in their final first phase group game, Ryan's Warriors needed to bounce back by overcoming Malawi.

A Warriors win would have undone some of the previous day's damage and the battling girls in green came close against a country consistently ranked in the top six in recent years.

As Ryan acknowledged, his players showed considerable character in setting aside the heartbreak of losing a Sunday tea-time thriller they had been seeded to win to deliver an improved performance first thing the next morning.

The head coach had engaged in surprisingly sharp public criticism of his players in a television interview straight after the loss to Zimbabwe, blaming them for stopping trusting each other in the crucial closing stages.

This time, though, the Australian's bottle was half full as he embraced the positives from another absorbing game involving Northern Ireland at this tournament.

"I'm actually really proud of this group, the way we played and the real sense of character shown by the team after what happened against Zimbabwe," he enthused.

"They did an incredible job against a world-class side, executed the game plan pretty well on the whole and played some beautiful netball.

"I probably knew we would have a slow start because of the emotional drain in the group so the target was to keep in touch by the end of the first quarter.

"We actually started pretty well and built into it. It was pleasing to see the confidence and connection on court and there were big improvements from yesterday."

Ryan retained the same starting seven from the Zimbabwe match with veteran Armstrong again getting the nod at goal shooter despite fading in the last quarter on Sunday.

Malawi led early on but Northern Ireland went 8-4 up with four goals on the spin only for the Queens to hit back and take a 12-9 advantage into the first break.

Northern Ireland edged the second quarter 12-11 and the spoils were shared in the third, leaving Malawi leading by two goals going into the final 15 minutes at 34-32.

Evergreen goalkeeper Gemma Lawlor, vice-captain Fionnuala Toner and Niamh Cooper had all won turnovers in defence while O'Hanlon and Michelle Drayne gave Armstrong and Magee good service.

After Malawi went an ominous nine clear, Michelle Magee replaced Cooper in the third quarter, with Toner switching to wing defence and Drayne came back on for Neamh Woods.

The Warriors scored the next four goals and got back to within two but Malawi pulled away again midway through the last quarter and Northern Ireland's final flourish still left them four adrift at the end.

Meanwhile, England moved a step closer to the semi-finals by beating World No.2 Jamaica.

Tracey Neville's side came through 56-48 in their first real test of the tournament, against a team ranked one place above them.

There were just two points in it at half-time but Jamaica fell away in the third quarter and England dominated late on to make sure of the win.

The Roses remain unbeaten in the competition and sit top of Group G.

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