England took the 2015 Netball Europe trophy this afternoon but were made to work for their win following a spirited display from the host nation.
Northern Ireland took a surprising early lead at the end of the first quarter but were eventually outclassed as England triumphed 64-22 to regain the title they last held in 2012.
Although they could still claim the title for themselves, with the gulf in class between the two teams, the aim for Northern Ireland was to restrict the England total as they battled to finish in second place with Wales.
If the gap remained under 25 goals, the home side could claim a fantastic runners-up spot. However, after fifteen minutes they may have been dreaming about more.
England stole the opening centre-pass and that was expected to signal the tone of the match. Instead the Irish, roared on by a wonderful local support, battled back and with momentum on their side they finished the opening quarter superbly to lead 12-9.
With England rattled, Tracey Neville made early changes. Sonia Mkoloma and Stacey Francis were introduced in defence while there were positional switches for Laura Malcolm, Sara Bayman, Pamela Cookey and Helen Housby.
The response was breath taking. England dominated the second quarter completely, to the extent that Northern Ireland were unable to register a single goal in those fifteen minutes.
The movement through court was much sharper. Where previously England had been unable to break through the host’s defensive barrier, they now made feeds with precision and accuracy. Backed up by the phenomenal work in defence, the turnaround was complete at half-time as England led 23-12.
A much more content Neville made just the one substitution for the third quarter as Sasha Corbin replaced Tamsin Greenway.
Momentum remained with England in the second half as they continued to find their rhythm in the attacking third, taking the ball through court at amazing speed to extend their advantage.
It took another eight minutes of the third quarter for Northern Ireland to add to their total as finally the incredible defence from the visitors was breached. At the end of the third quarter England were in control and closing in the title, taking a 41-19 advantage into the final fifteen minutes.
Sally Butters and Rachel Dunn made their way onto court for the fourth quarter as again all twelve players were given the opportunity for game time.
The aim for Northern Ireland was to now limit England goals in order to clinch second spot. Unfortunately for the hosts, the ladies in red were in no mood for giving favours.
The fluency in the mid-court continued and any Irish mistakes were quick to be punished. Furiously quick work from the mid-court put England into scoring positions in a matter of seconds from centre-pass.
A final flurry of goals from Dunn and Cookey put the gloss on the fight back and the celebrations could begin. It was to be double joy for captain Cookey as she was later named Player of the Tournament.
With eight victories in the last two weeks, the squad have all put themselves firmly in the thoughts for World Cup selection.
A host of names return from the ANZ Championships in the coming weeks and the final squad for Sydney has to be whittled down to twelve shortly afterwards. With the team in such good form, a lot of eyes will be on that particular announcement.
England starting 7 v NI: GS - Cookey, GA - Housby, WA - Greenway, C - Malcolm, WD - Bayman, GD - Guscoth, GK - Cook
Courtois Straight Through to the Semis
– Pauline Courtois leads after first day