‘Missed medal chance hurts’ – Caroline O’Hanlon

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Saturday, July 14th, 2012
I suppose it’s in the nature of sport that only one team can come out of any competition fully satisfied and that for everyone else it ends in varying degrees of failure. Our objective was to reach the semi-finals of the World University Championships and, at face value, finishing fourth in a major tournament is an achievement that any Irish side should be reasonably proud of. Like last year’s World Cup, we performed fairly well, but as on that occasion – when narrowly beaten by South Africa for a place in the top six – we were left with a sense of what might have been. With Australia and New Zealand not taking part, we wanted to come away with medals of some shade so losing both the semi-final and third place play-off was disappointing, particularly as we created enough chances to beat the team who went on to win the tournament. Coming here with an exceptionally strong squad packed with experienced players we felt we had a golden opportunity to achieve something special and I think our overall performances supported our belief that getting to the final was a realistic target. We had more shots at goal than Great Britain in the semi-final but, frustratingly, couldn’t nail enough of them to claim what would have been a great result for netball in this country. In one sense, it’s pleasing that we at least matched the top seeds in most facets of the game but ultimately it’s all about putting the ball in the net and semi-finals are all about winning. The harsh reality is that our conversion rate simply wasn’t good enough to deliver victory at the business end of a major competition and, as one of the shooters, I must share the blame for too many misses. There’s no point making excuses like being eight inches shorter than their main shooter or not being a specialist shooter or the height of their defenders, or citing the hard work we were doing round the court in mitigation. It was nice to be involved in the tournament opener against hosts South Africa and the shooting went well that day but we were a little too far behind at half-time and never managed to eat into their lead. I came off in the third quarter against the USA after turning my ankle but we were winning easily at the time and I didn’t want to take any risks ahead of the next match, in which we blew Zimbabwe away. We were 40 goals up at half-time before getting a bit loose and sloppy as sometimes can happen in a game like that, but thankfully we didn’t develop too many bad habits ahead of the quarter-final against Uganda. They’d only lost by one goal to GB in their last group game but we knew, if we stood up to their roughness and intimidation, that our extra experience, tactical awareness and skill levels should see us through. It was close in the end but we deserved to hold out and, as against Samoa in the World Cup a year ago, the pleasing thing about the Uganda game was proving we could handle pressure and a notoriously physical challenge. We genuinely believed we had a great chance against GB but they had the luxury of that giant shooter, Steffi Burt, and although our defence did very well to limit her chances, she hardly missed an attempt on goal all afternoon. On paper it was still a respectable result and aspects of our game were good but you have to be judged on the complete performance and we didn’t deserve to win with those shooting stats. So ultimately we’ll look back on the tournament as a tale of opportunities missed but for now there’s no time to be beating ourselves up – for many of us it’s straight into a tough Test series against South Africa with only one day in between but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.
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