World ranking: 8th
Previous Commonwealth Games results: 2014 (7th)
Commonwealth Games win/loss record: 3 wins, 3 losses.
Northern Ireland is a team on the rise, having jumped up the international rankings from 21st position a decade ago, to 8th position currently.
They out-played their Scottish and Welsh counterparts at the Netball Europe Championships in October last year, finishing second behind England. Their most recent international outings were World Cup regional qualifying matches in January, with mixed results against Wales and Scotland.
This team has been together a long time. They have an average age of 29, and seven players have returned from the 2014 team that competed in Northern Ireland’s first appearance at a Commonwealth Games. They finished an admirable 7th place.
Combatting the height of the tall players in the top eight will be a challenge, with their tallest player standing at 184cm. However, they have experience all over the court and strength that comes from maturity. More than half the team play Gaelic football in addition to netball, adding to their physical condition.
Coach Elaine Rice nominates Niamh Cooper and Kyla Bowman as players to watch.
“Niamh Cooper is an impact player who came on in the dying stages of the match against Scotland at Netball Europe when we were reduced to six (after a player was sent off). She harried and steadied to seal the win,” said Rice.
Kyla Bowman joins older sister Lisa for their first world tournament together.
“Kyla’s older sister gets more plaudits, but our success has been hugely influenced by the younger sister. Kyla’s court smarts, longer shots and defensive pressure make her a serious threat to every opponent,” said Rice.
It has been a challenging few years for the team, missing out on the 2015 World Cup by the narrowest of margins in qualifications. This led to funding cuts, which put a strain on the team. However, a great performance at the Netball Europe Championships has set them up for a positive Commonwealth Games campaign, as well as gaining qualification for the 2019 World Cup. The team are delighted to have arrived in Australia after an exceptionally busy year.
“Our preparations have indicated a steady level of progression in our game play. As a team we have been together a long time and our court awareness and connections will hopefully reflect that,” said Rice.
“Our expectations are that we can prolong our positive moments on court to impact results and then that will be reflected on a final standing above our current ranking. We are excited, hopeful and enthusiastic to be part of this huge event.”
They will face world number one, Australia, in their first game. Jamaica and South Africa will also prove to be tough opponents, while they should see off Barbados and Fiji in the Pool A rounds. They will look to at least equal their 7th placing at the 2014 Games, but will face strong opposition from their European neighbours and Uganda.
Commonwealth Games team
Caroline O’Hanlon C/WA (c)
Kyla Bowman GA/GS
Lisa Bowman GS
Niamh Cooper WD
Michaelle Drayne WA/C/WD
Gemma Lawlor GK/GD
Noleen Lennon GS
Michelle Magee GD/GK
Lisa McCaffrey WA/C
Oonagh McCullough GA/GS
Fionnuala Toner WD
Neamh Woods WD/WA
Coach: Elaine Rice
Assistant coaches: Karen Rollo, Clar Rois McGuinness
Last five international results
Northern Ireland lost to Scotland 31-52 (2018)
Northern Ireland def Wales 57-42 (2018)
Northern Ireland def Scotland 46-45 (2017)
Northern Ireland def Fiji 58-46 (2017)
Northern Ireland lost to England 44-75 (2017)