Northern Ireland are ranked 8th in the world, Barbados 11th. In their last meeting, Northern Ireland prevailed by just two goals, so both sides would have pencilled this match as eminently winnable. Barbados worked hard at the start of the match, establishing a narrow four goal lead by half time. However, Northern Ireland remained positive, and laid down a strong final quarter to run out 10 goal winners.
Northern Ireland: GS Lisa Bowman, GA Kyla Bowman, WA Michelle Drayne, C Caroline O’Hanlon, WD Fionnuala Toner, GD Noleen Lennon, GK Gemma Lawlor.
Bench: Lisa McCaffrey, Michelle Magee, Oonagh McCullough, Neamh Woods, Niamh Cooper.
Coach: Elaine Rice
Q3 Oonagh McCullough GA, Neamh Woods WA, Michelle Magee GD. Then Noleen Lennon to GS
Barbados: GS Shonica Wharton, GA Latonia Blackman, WA Damisha Croney, C Rieah Holder, WD Teresa Howell, GD Rhe-Ann Niles-Mapp (Captain), GK Shonette Azore-Bruce.
Bench: Vanessa Bobb, Sabreena Smith, Shonte Seal, Tonisha Rock-Yaw, Nikita Payne. Coach: Sandra Bruce-Small
Q2 Sabreena Smith C, then Shonte Seale into WD.
Q4 Damisha Croney C, then Niles-Mapp to GK, Searle to GD, Tonisha Rock-yaw to WD.
Umpires: Theresa Prince (RSA), Gary Burgess (ENG), Maria van der Merwe (RSA)
One of the keys to this match was the through court effort of Northern Ireland – they had seven attackers, but also seven defenders, on court. Mixing up their defensive strategies, they alternated between man on man and a floating offline defence. It was to prove crucial, holding up the Bhajans time and again, who had to throw backwards to move forwards. As a result Barbados committed 25 turnovers compared to Northern Ireland’s 16, an important point of difference between the two sides.
Barbados started with Shonica Wharton and Latonia Blackman in goals, both players who’ve served them accurately throughout matches to date. Wharton was a commanding presence at goal shooter, working in well with the lithe Blackman whose baseline drives saw her pop up when needed. The Bhajan shooters tended to look for each other rather than using triangular play with their midcourters, allowing Northern Ireland to disrupt play at times.
In the past Caribbean teams have played with a lot of flair and aerial ability, but haven’t always been known for their steadiness in moving the ball through midcourt. In this tournament Barbados have remained very patient on attack, trying to maintain possession with more short, sharp passing than we are used to seeing from them.
Fionnuala Toner, playing at wing defence for Northern Ireland, is having a fine tournament. She is currently ranked in 6th place for intercepts taken, the only midcourter ranked in the top nine of the Games. She continued to closely mark her wing attack Damisha Croney, then Latonia Blackman, hauling in five intercepts and six deflections in this game.
Once again, Caroline O’Hanlon ran tirelessly at centre for Northern Ireland. She had a number of heavy falls and a couple of blows across the throat but wasn’t to be deterred in her push to win the game. Her combination with Michelle Drayne (WA) was particularly fluid around the circle in the first half, although Neamh Woods gained in confidence once she took the court in that position in the third quarter. Both players were physically held by opponent Shonte Seale, which often went undetected, making their role more difficult.
The Bowman sisters, Lisa and Kyla, started the match in the shooting circle for Northern Ireland. The Bhajan strategy was to double team Lisa at goal shooter, forcing the generally less prolific Kyla into shooting. With team accuracy at just 70% leading into this game, rebounds were going to be important. Bhajan defenders Shonette Azore-Bruce (GK) and Rhe-Ann Niles-Mapp (GD) are both strong performers, with Azore-Bruce currently ranked 2nd for intercepts at this tournament. Azore-Bruce played in front of her opponent, L Bowman, who struggled to protect the back space at times.
Northern Ireland made key changes to their line at half time. While they were slow to settle, turning the ball over unnecessarily, eventually players found their connections. Of particular importance was the fresh shooting circle in the third and fourth quarters, with Oonagh McCullough on at goal attack and Noleen Lennon at goal shooter. The latter proved to be the crucial difference in the shooting circle, hitting 15 out of 16 goals at 95% accuracy.
It’s been difficult for the coaching staff to know how to use Lennon – she is one of only two players in the team who stand over 180cm. She’s moved back and forwards between keeper and shooter over the years to provide much needed height in thaecircle. At this tournament, she’s generally been used at goal keeper in the first half of the game, before moving into goal shooter.
As the game wore on there were numerous passages of end to end netball – fine intercepts, turnovers, coach killers such as unset passes, that kept the players on the move. 18-year-old Michelle Magee was fearless in her play, becoming influential at goal defence for Northern Ireland. When Toner took a spectacular intercept, ran the length of two thirds to take another pass and fired a long bomb into her shooter, Irish eyes began to smile. The team immediately went on to force a held ball, then Gemma Lawlor (GK) hauled in another gain and Lennon finished off the good work.
The Bhajan players, who’d had less time to recover leading into this match, visibly tired with the end to end play, and by the last quarter lacked the energy to slow Northern Ireland. Blackman moved to wing attack and found her shooters with some crafty feeding, but it was all over by the time inspirational goal keeper Azore-Bruce was forced from the court. With an already heavily bandaged thigh, she sustained what appeared to be a severe cork after a mid-air collision. Northern Ireland continued to build their lead, running out ten goal winners.
FINAL SCORE: Northern Ireland defeated Barbados 49 – 39
Lisa Bowman 20/25 (80%), Kyla Bowman 5/7 (71%), Noleen Lennon 15/16 (94%), Oonagh McCullough 9/15 (60%)
Shonica Wharton 27/29 (93%), Latonia Blackman 9/12 (75%), Nikita Payne 3/3 (100%).
WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME:
Noleen Lennon (Ireland)
How did the win feel? “We knew the first three games were going to be a tough ask, but this was the one we were gunning for.”
You saved the best quarter for last. “It all fell into place. We knew we had the fitness, the legs to keep going, to push and push, and we came through.”
It was a sluggish start from both teams. What was said at half time? “To stick to our game plan, and do what we needed to do. We weren’t going for the balls and challenging for what we could.”
Elaine Rice (Coach, Northern Ireland)
Your girls don’t give up. “We beat Barbados twice in June, so we knew it would be tight. We only beat them by two in June. We needed to put it out in four quarters, but we only put it out in the last. I guess our girls are tenacious, they’re lighter than most teams, but they’ve a lot of heart.”
You were behind at half time. What did you say to the team? “Not for radio! Not for print! I was very hard on them. That said, our girls are not young, they’re experienced. I don’t sugar coat things. I asked them to go back to the game plan. We did make a couple of changes. That’s it, I’m conscious that the girls that started for the heat of the battle, the game opened up towards the end. We had more recovery time than Barbados, and we were aware of that. We thought it might open up in the last, so just told the ones, ‘You girls have done your bit, these girls are going to come in and try their part now and it worked.”
Tell us about some of the changes you made. “At half time we brought on young Michelle Magee, we felt that Noeleen, our goal defence was close to, but just not getting some ball. And we felt that Michelle is young and a wee bit careless at times, it pays off.”
“Also, I was considering putting Noeleen into shooter, and felt that time on the bench might assist that. Then Oonagh and Neamh in goal attack and wing attack, I have difficulty picking my starting seven, because there’s not a big gap. Every day there’s a decision to make. It’s day by day, depending on who we’re playing. So we tried that. Neamh has had little court time, but she would be happy up to this point, but she went out there and hardly put a foot wrong.”
You’ve got another winnable game ahead, against Fiji. “We played Fiji in October. They were invitees of Netball Europe. We will look at those games, the games before in this competition, and just see where we can break them down. To me they’ve been overpenalised in some of their games, because I don’t know if they’re any more physical than any of our other opposition. But I haven’t put a seven out on court against them. I might review tomorrow. We will recover well, we’ve a longer recovery than them again, we’re conscious the draw sometimes swings in our favour.