Northern Ireland netballers secure silver medals at Europeans

Oonagh McCullough and Caroline O'Hanlon
Oonagh McCullough and Caroline O'Hanlon

Northern Ireland's netballers have secured silver medals at the European Championships for the first time ever.

The girls in green held their nerve in a thrilling finish to beat Wales 49-47 and clinch runners-up spot behind hosts England in Sheffield.

It was an encouraging first tournament for Northern Ireland under new coach Jill McIntosh, who has steered her native Australia to two World Cup wins.

McIntosh's team went down 69-54 to the hot favourites.

Beaten 87-16 by England in last summer's World Cup quarter-final in Singapore, McIntosh's team made a real fight of it this time before losing out.

They then cruised to a 49-39 victory over Scotland, with the 16-goal interval lead enabling McIntosh to withdraw most of her big guns in the second half.

New captain Gemma Gibney and star player Caroline O'Hanlon were among those given a rest ahead of the showdown with Wales.

O'Hanlon, who won her 50th cap in the Scottish match, was named player of the match for a superb performance against Wales which helped Northern Ireland to victory.

The European player of 2010 stamped her class on the game as McIntosh's team forged ahead and then held out against a spirited Welsh fightback.

At 48-47 in the closing seconds, Oonagh McCullough netted the conclusive goal which finally put the game beyond Wales.

Northern Ireland's next competitive action is a three test series away to South Africa, ranked sixth in the world, in July.