Caroline has first touch in netball
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
LOCAL ace Caroline O'Hanlon had the honour of first touch in the entire netball tournament at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but Northern Ireland have had to wait for a maiden victory.
The girls in green went into yesterday (Monday) evening's fourth group game still searching for their first ever Commonwealth win after expectedly losing to three of the world's top five netballing nations.
Their hopes of upsetting Malawi were emphatically ended in a disastrous second quarter, Jamaica predictably proved too strong the following evening and Commonwealth champions New Zealand inevitably inflicted Northern Ireland's third defeat on Sunday night.
It was always set to be a baptism of fire for O'Hanlon's side with the crunch clashes in Pool A coming this week against St Lucia and hosts Scotland with a seventh place play-off the prize for two wins in a tournament featuring of the world's top teams as this is a sport completely dominated by Commonwealth countries.
When O'Hanlon's netballers took the court last Thursday morning in the SECC Arena they became the first female team from any sport to represent Northern Ireland at a Commonwealth Games or Ireland at an Olympics, making it an auspicious occasion.
Fittingly given that historic significance, Northern Ireland were scheduled to play in the opening game of the netball at Glasgow 2014 and, having won the toss, they got the action underway with the opening pass.
That task fell to hugely experienced centre O'Hanlon, who had the ball in her hands as the tournament's first whistle went, and her long-serving colleague Noleen Lennon netted Northern Ireland's first ever Commonwealth Games goal within 20 seconds.
The plucky underdogs raced into a 3-1 lead early on but Malawi were four up by the end of the opening quarter and then pulled decisively clear before half-time by outscoring Northern Ireland 21-8 in the second period to lead 39-22.
Malawi were ruthless in exploiting errors and punishingly physical, O'Hanlon's opposite number - crucially sinbinned late on against New Zealand the day after - being warned by the umpires at one stage.
The abrasive Africans extended their advantage by five in the third quarter before Northern Ireland had the consolation of edging the fourth by a single goal courtesy of getting the last score of the game just like they had the first in a 71-50 defeat.
Armagh gaelic captain O'Hanlon was the only Northern Ireland player to feature for the entire opening game in the same position and she again played the full match the next evening in the pivotal centre role.
Against Jamaica, medal contenders ranked fourth in the world and traditionally the strongest of the netball-mad Caribbean countries, Northern Ireland again came up against a giant goal machine, the 6'5" Jhaniele Reid.
Playing in unfamiliar navy and white, Northern Ireland quickly cancelled out the opening goal against them but Jamaica then rapidly reeled off seven unanswered goals before O'Hanlon's vision started turning the tide.
After three goals in a row, suddenly the force was with Northern Ireland but their momentum was broken by a 10-minute stoppage while the Jamaican centre was stretchered off and ultimately the sunshine girls eased 17-9 clear by the end of the quarter.
Jamaica scored the first six goals after the resumption before Bessbrook woman O'Hanlon's deft handling got the underdogs going again but with the gap up to 18 by the long interval, Lennon was switched back to her preferred role up front.
With the energetic O'Hanlon increasingly influential, Northern Ireland played positively themselves and gave everything in trying to disrupt Jamaican attacks but still unluckily lost the third quarter 14-11 and eventually going down 65-34.
Playing New Zealand for the first time in years was set to be another damage limitation exercise against a vastly superior side, though there was a certain masochistic thrill to the prospect of facing the world's top ranked team.
Certainly Northern Ireland looked inspired early on, New Zealand even calling a time-out when trailing to the upstarts in green who were 7-6 up midway through the first quarter with O'Hanlon particularly prominent.
The Kiwis suddenly surged away to open up a 19-8 lead by the end of that opening period and had opened up a 25-goal gap midway through the match, half-time coming with New Zealand leading 40-15.
Northern Ireland started the second half strongly yet for all their enterprising play, the hot favourites still outscored them 17-6 in the third quarter and also comfortably took the last to win 78-29.
However, the plucky underdogs scored four of the last five goals to keep the margin of defeat to under 50 goals and send them into the St Lucia clash in positive spirits.
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