County Captains combine to net big win

October 19, 2015

Richard Bullick

Three ladies gaelic county captains combined brilliantly as Caroline O’Hanlon’s NI Premier League netball champions Larkfield launched their bid for a hat-trick of titles with a record rout of big rivals Graduates.

Armagh skipper O’Hanlon was joined in a dynamic centre court trio by Tyrone’s Neamh Woods and Down’s Laura Mason as Lisburn-based Larkfield sensationally thrashed the Belfast side 88-27 in last Friday’s first fixture of the new campaign.

It was a powerful statement of intent to all the other teams by formidable Larkfield who already look hot favourites for a third title on the trot especially with Graduates having lost several leading lights for various reasons.

It was 22-6 to the hosts after an ominously one-sided opening period and that dominance continued throughout, as reflected in the final scoreline.

By half-time, the lead was 40-13 which had been extended to 61-22 at the last interval before merciless Larkfield finished with a flourish by running riot in the final quarter which they took 26-5.

All 88 Larkfield goals were scored by the eldest two of the three Bowman sisters in the side as the legendary Denise Prue, the Alex Ferguson of netball in terms of longevity of tenure, maintained the same seven throughout.

Under the irrepressible Prue, who brought O’Hanlon to the club as a 17-year-old schoolgirl, Larkfield have assembled a top-class squad with decent depth behind their all-international first choice line-up.

Larkfield supplied seven of the Northern Ireland squad of 12 for May’s European Open including the three Bowmans, O’Hanlon, her Tyrone gaelic captaincy counterpart Woods, Deborah McCarthy and English-based exile Michelle Drayne.

As at her gaelic club Carrickcruppen who recently secured a first ever domestic double in Armagh, O’Hanlon has been Larkfield’s skipper for many years and the world-class centre is an inspirational leader who has formed a formidable double act with Prue.

The head coach has been at the helm for more than a quarter of a century while O’Hanlon is now in her ninth season as club captain, which has provided exceptional continuity and helped Larkfield attract top talent from all over Northern Ireland to end the dominance of the established Belfast Big Two.

Having two sets of strapping six-footers in either circle with the three gaelic county captains providing a fluid link in the middle of the court is the perfect formula for another successful season.

With top players everywhere and slick combinations barely showing any season-opener rust, confident Larkfield dominated throughout in their opening game and besieged Graduates simply couldn’t stem the tide.

O’Hanlon typically pulled the strings with Woods showing what a top-class sporting all-rounder she is too and the diminutive Mason playing with a smile on her face again after a chastering summer skippering the decimated Down ladies gaelic team.

Lisa Bowman netted some magnificent goals to complement Larkfield’s incisive attacks as the champions hit their stride in stunning style and already it isn’t hard to envisage them going through the entire campaign with a 100 percent record.