IT was a challenging weekend of international netball for both the Northern Ireland Under 21 and Under 17 teams in European action with the Under 21’s in Antrim and the Under 17s travelling to Glasgow. At the forum in Antrim the Euro champions England were the first opponents for the Under 21 team.
National coach Jackie Portis had taken the squad to play Team Northumbria in January with a home fixture in February against British Combined Colleges. They faced England whose starting seven all play in the Sky televised UK Super league and toured Jamaica in August and are off to the Far East for the next trip.
The superior strength and experience didn’t show as the first furious quarter was 15-11 to the visitors with great defence from Julie Whitten as GK and Maeve McQuillan as GD along with GA and captain Maire Toner and GS and vice captain Jenna Bowman from Magherafelt shooting successfully to keep the score within reach.
The second quarter was more telling with a 26 goal surge from England and only 1 in reply and the agony continued with the 41-11 half time converted to 62-15 by the three quarter stage.
All 12 team members gained their first under 21 cap before the 82-25 final score including Sara Campbell from Cookstown High and now studying architecture at UUJ who played for three quarters in mid court, Megan Millar and Kirstie McCammon still at Cookstown High and top goal scorer Jenna Bowman.
The third international netballer in the family Jenna played in all three matches only being rested in the final match against Scotland.
The final placings and results in the championships were England 1st, Wales 2nd, Scotland 3rd Northern Ireland 4th.
NI 25 England 81, NI 35 Wales 62, NI 33 Scotland 47
Better performance against Wales and Scotland but no wins did not deter coach Portis from praising her young squad who now train for 16 months for the World Youth Championships in Glasgow.” They lack the match experience and intense training of the other home countries and as a result small errors were punished heavily but I am very proud of their energy and great efforts over the three days”.
The Under 17s came 4th in Glasgow with defeats against England, 1st, Wales 2nd and Scotland 3rd but remain in the Championships section defeating Scotland Development 32-12 in the play offs.