Northern Ireland had a battle on their hands against Barbados but finished in style 48-43
Northern Ireland will take part in the 9th-place play-off on Saturday afternoon after they beat Barbados 46-43 in one of the closest and most fascinating matches of the Vitality Netball World Cup so far.
Barbados will have to settle for a game to finish 11th having lost out here – that they took part in such an exciting spectacle will be of little consolation.
Northern Ireland lost 28-77 New Zealand on Tuesday and also were narrowly defeated (47-43) against Malawi. They finished third in Group A, ahead of only Sri Lanka, who they beat by 17 goals.
Barbados, meanwhile, lost 66-41 to Zimbabwe and 91-22 to Australia. They came third in Group B having beaten only Singapore.
Northern Ireland had not beaten Barbados at World Cups in either of their previous two attempts, but did so here thanks in the main to an improved third-quarter performance.
Goal attack Latonia Blackman, now just two caps short of 150 for her country, began the first quarter well, netting twice inside the first four minutes, but the game was setting up to be a tight one, with neither side able to take a significant advantage.
Northern Ireland’s goal shooter Shaunagh Craig and goal attack Emma Magee matched their counterparts – Blackman and goal shooter Shonica Wharton – at least in terms of goals, if not accuracy, for much of the first 15 minutes.
Northern Ireland trailed by three at one stage, but by the end of the 15-minute period, had placed themselves just one behind with the score at 13-12.
The second quarter was equally as tense as Magee took her conversion rate to 15 from 19 and Northern Ireland won the segment by a goal, levelling the scoreline overall.
After half-time, the match could not have been closer, and that was a pattern set to continue as the game wore on.
With the game in the balance, the second half started slowly as both sides attempted to gauge how best to play the remainder of the match.
With neither team wanting to make a mistake which could be costly, the end-to-end nature of the game lessened for the first few minutes, and the lowest-scoring quarter of the match ensued, though the frantic pace returned towards the end of the period.
Northern Ireland were clinical with the chances that they did create, scoring 12 times and taking a four-goal lead. Wing defence Niamh Cooper, who played her 50th match for Northern Ireland against New Zealand on day five of the competition, had a particularly strong quarter, breaking up attacks, while Magee was now on 20 goals from 26 shots.
Heading into the final 15 minutes, Northern Ireland were in a strong position but knew that only another solid performance would be sufficient to get over the line.
Despite Barbados’ best efforts, a solid showing is exactly what Northern Ireland produced, as they narrowly lost the final quarter 12-11 to seal victory in the game overall, much to the delight of coach Dan Ryan.
Northern Ireland’s Caroline O’Hanlon said:
“As always with Barbados, it was a tough physical encounter. We know they’re a good team and that they’ve been playing well over the last few days, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy today, and they fought to the very end.”