AS the curtain closes on another Commonwealth Games, we take a look back at how each of the netballing nations fared in our team-by-team review series. Next up is Northern Ireland who recorded a 10th placed finish at the Games, defeating Trinidad and Tobago on the penultimate day before going down to Scotland in the playoffs.
GAMES AT A GANDER
Northern Ireland came into the Commonwealth Games as an underdog, with a handful of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) experienced players, and of course their experience from the 2019 World Cup. They copped a real tough group in the form of reigning Gold Medallists England, World Cup champions New Zealand, and perennial top sides Malawi and Uganda. The losses to New Zealand (59 goals) and England (44) were particularly bad, with the eventual fifth placed Uganda still being a 37-goal loss. The 13-goal defeat at the hands of Malawi in the second group match was the most promising, and then the upset over Trinidad and Tobago was a confidence booster. It helped the Warriors book their spot in the ninth placed playoff, and though they ultimately lost to Scotland by 10 goals, were competitive throughout.
It should be no surprise that two of their most experienced players were consistent across the board, with attacking midcourter and captain Caroline O’Hanlon and defender Fionnuala Toner the standouts. O’Hanlon turned 38 three days ago but has aged like a fine wine, still dominating at VNSL level for champions Manchester Thunder. In the Commonwealth Games, O’Hanlon had 73 goals assists from 159 feeds – ranking number one in the stat – as well as five intercepts and nine deflections. She worked well with fellow experienced midcourter Michelle Drayne (39 goal assists from 89 feeds, two deflections) who predominantly took the centre spot. Toner held up the defence with a team-high 16 intercepts, four rebounds and 17 deflections.
A 22-year-old in the form of Michelle Magee was the pick of the Warriors youngsters, playing in the defensive third in each of the six games. She had the second most deflections (13) and intercepts (nine) behind Toner, and was able to support her more experienced teammates in order to gain great experience for future handovers. Though not quite as young, Emma Magee is more than capable of playing in all three attacking roles, scoring 64 goals from 92 attempts and having 30 goal assists fro 49 feeds. Magee also picked up two intercepts, four deflections and three rebounds in an all-round tournament effort.
As it stood coming into the Commonwealth Games, Northern Ireland were ranked 11th overall having only played the 16 matches over the last few years. The Warriors showed by defeating Trinidad & Tobago they should crack into the top 10, and gave Scotland a run for its money. Even the comparatively close loss to Malawi will give the Warriors confidence, though the big question mark is over the juniors to filter through. The best Northern Ireland players are the wrong side of 30, so being able to bring in more youth to fill roles and set the Warriors up for the future will be crucial.