Thistles stun Warriors in huge win
SCOTLAND has one foot in the 2023 Netball World Cup door, after thrashing Northern Ireland in the European Qualifiers overnight. The Thistles were incredible, and for the most part breathtaking, moving down the court with rapid speed combined with accurate passing, while applying full court pressure. Highlighted by Bethan Goodwin shooting up one end, and Emily Nicholl creating turnovers up the other, Scotland put the foot down in the opening half to create a stunning 19-goal lead at half-time, setting up the 27-goal victory in Glasgow.
SCOTLAND 18 | 16 | 15 | 16 (65)
NORTHERN IRELAND 6 | 9 | 10 | 13 (38)
In the first match of the genuine World Cup Qualifier challengers, the two sides that earned those spots last time faced off. Scotland was keen to continue its remarkable form from the first two days, while Northern Ireland had looked shaky during the second term against Republic of Ireland, but had steadied enough to get the job done. With Wales being the one fighting for the two spots, a win in the matches between the trio was always worth more than the two points.
Scotland went into the match with its regular starting seven, while Northern Ireland opted to return to its starting seven in previous matches too despite Ciara Crosbie‘s success at goal shooter. She was named at goal attack alongside young goal shooter Orlaith Rogers, but to be fair it would not have mattered who was there. The Scottish defensive pressure completely nullified the Warriors in the opening term, grabbing an intercept off the first centre pass thanks to Iona Christian and soon Goodwin had her first one on the board.
The feeding from Christian, Hannah Leighton and Niamh McCall into the circle was incredible, as Goodwin – after missing her first shot of the day – continued her remarkable, accurate form. Though McCall was uncharacteristically missing a fair share of chances, it was frustrating the Northern Ireland defence of Michelle Magee and Fionnuala Toner. Even the experienced Caroline O’Hanlon looked a touch rattled at times, as Nicholl and Rachel Conway were picking off everything.
Time and time again the Thistles kept pressing and forced a Warriors change with a 80 seconds left on the clock. Crosbie moved into goal shooter as the Irish brought on Georgie McGrath, and O’Hanlon and Michelle Davidge swapped positions in the midcourt. By the first break, the margin was 18-6 in favour of the home team, and things would only go from bad to worse in the second quarter. Though the margin would only increase by seven compared to 12 in the first quarter, the Warriors simply had no answers for the Thistles.
Northern Ireland brought on Olivia McDonald at goal keeper, moved Magee to goal defence and Toner to wing defence, surprisingly benching Niamh Cooper after the dominant start by Christian. The first shot from McGrath was an airball that missed completely, and Scotland rushed it down the other end for Goodwin to score. It was a microcosm of the match, where nothing was seemingly going right for Northern Ireland, and everything was happening for Scotland. But the Thistles were making it happen, with high-level defensive pressure and making the most of it, with McCall and Goodwin so experienced together compared to the Warriors duo.
Toner’s frustration continued to simmer as she was handed a caution with 4:40 left on the clock in the second term, though remained out there. Frances Keenan came onto the court in wing attack with O’Hanlon moved back into centre as the Warriors desperately tried anything to stay in the match. Goodwin was just unstoppable with her movement, smarts and shooting, and by the time the siren sounded for half-time, the Thistles were up by 19, 34-15.
Barring a disaster, Scotland was already home at the break, but coach Tamsin Greenway brought on Kelly Boyle at centre and Hannah Grant at goal keeper to keep mixing up the combinations. Northern Ireland called upon Alex Martin at goal shooter with McGrath beside her, while O’Hanlon went to wing attack, Cooper came back on in wing defence and Toner moved into the unfamiliar centre bib. Martin shot her first goal from her first attempt, but not long after, Nicholl adapted to the changing goal circle and continued to cause plenty of headaches.
Scotland kept building the lead, but a move to bring Rachel Duckers on was a critical one. She provided some extra movement in the circle and forced Nicholl to play closer to the circle edge, opening up one-on-one opportunities for Martin. The pair looked the most natural combination that the Warriors had played all game, and remained like that for the rest of the game. They managed to get the game back to a competitive level and stem the bleeding, though the damage was already done. Down by 22 goals by the time Duckers came on with 10 minutes left in the third term, there was not much that could have been done.
Scotland extended out to 24 goals by the final break, and Greenway opted to bring on Emma Barrie at goal shooter, move Goodwin to goal attack and rest McCall. Northern Ireland did not make any changes after the most promising term of the game, with only Lauren Tait coming on for Scotland during the fourth quarter being the one move. It mattered little to the result in reality, but the 16-13 final term was more indicative of the respective side’s quality, with Scotland extending the final margin out to 27 goals.
Duckers and Martin could be pleased with the pressure they put on the opposition defence, though the full court pressure from the Thistles was just too much across the match, Nicholl was outstanding, and critically Goodwin made the most of her chances, as the midcourt always seemed on top, frustrating experienced players such as Toner to the point of getting a warning. Scotland will now prepare for one last test against Wales, whilst the Warriors will need to dust themselves off and defeat the Feathers if they are to be any chance of reaching a second successive Netball World Cup.
AROUND THE COURTS
Wales completed its regulation wins ahead of the Feathers’ two most critical matches, with a comprehensive 52-goal victory over the Republic of Ireland. While the Emeralds had shown signs against Northern Ireland the day before, they could not sustain a strong early start and only scored two goal in the second term. Wales kept pressing throughout the match eventually coming away with a 75-23 victory. Georgia Rowe was powerful in attack, with Nia Jones superb across the court, while Emeralds’ Corey McGlynn played at goal defence again and was tenacious.
In a battle between the two bottom sides, Isle of Man took home the chocolates with a 43-33 victory over Gibraltar. As predicted the battle was a tight low-scoring tussle, and the half-time score being 19-10 and Isle of Man in front. The Max Rams continued to extend the lead through each of the final two terms and held on for the double-digit win. Ashley Hall lead from the front in the midcourt for the winners, while Cassidy Pizzey backed up her strong game from the day before with another impressive outing. For Gibraltar, Amy Pozo and Megan Ruiz tried hard in the attacking circle.