NI netballers see off Sri Lanka in World Cup Pool A
Northern Ireland's netball team got their World Championship campaign off to a winning start by beating Sri Lanka 65-56 in Pool A in Singapore on Monday.
The NI side face a tougher test against Australia on Tuesday, and then play Samoa in their final group game, as they bid for a quarter-final place.
The top two teams will qualify for the last eight at the global event which is staged every four years.
Reigning champions Australia defeated Samoa 81-23 on Monday.
Captain Noleen Lennon led from the front with 50 goals against Sri Lanka.
Northern Ireland went into their opening match in Pool A as favourites, based on a world ranking of 12, three places above their opponents.
But Sri Lanka has a scoring machine in 6'10" goal-shooter Tharjini Sivalingam, who bagged all but two of their 56 goals and only missed one shot in the entire game.
Sri Lanka led early on but Northern Ireland, compensating for a lack of height with fluid movement and slick patterns, bounced back to take the lead.
They were 17-12 up at the end of the first quarter and 31-27 at half-time before taking a nine-goal advantage into the last period.
Ireland replaced regular goalkeeper Gemma Gibney, Northern Ireland's player of the year in each of the past two years, with the more physical Deborah McCarthy before the interval in an attempt to knock Sivalingam out of her rhythm.
Oonagh McCullough, who would have been graduating in Medicine from Queen's University yesterday, had got the nod in the starting line-up which meant no starting spot for squad vice-captain Lisa McCaffrey.
Northern Ireland wing attack Hannah Irvine was named player of the match for an all-action display which helped her team tear Sri Lanka's defence apart.
"We're relieved to start with a win, which now sets things up nicely for us," said Northern Ireland coach Elaine Rice.
"I was delighted that we made so few errors but understandably we found Sivalingam very hard to contain and that meant we had to keep scoring ourselves."
With Australia expected to be in a league of their own, the game against Samoa on Wednesday morning is expected to decide who will progress to a potential quarter-final meeting with England.
Northern Ireland failed to make it to the 2007 World Cup but secured their passage to Singapore this time by beating both Scotland and Wales at the regional qualifying event in Glasgow last June.
Northern Ireland squad: Noleen Lennon (capt), Micaela Brunton, Fionnuala Toner, Frances Campbell (all Belfast Ladies), Lisa McCaffrey (vice-captain), Gemma Gibney, Hannah Irvine, Oonagh McCullough (all Graduates), Caroline O'Hanlon, Kyla Bowman, Deborah McCarthy, Laura Mason (all Larkfield).