Graduates tipped to take the honours

By Staff Reporter

GRADUATES are poised to complete netball’s NI league and cup double when they face Larkfield on Saturday in the sport’s domestic showpiece at Lisburn Racquets (2.45pm).

The newly crowned Premier League champions will start favourites against opponents who were unbeaten before Christmas but have fallen away since the turn of the year.

Lisburn-based Larkfield are the only team to have beaten Grads this season, winning their first league encounter by a six-goal margin back in November, but the Belfast outfit have emerged victorious from all three meetings in 2012.

The strongest and best balanced side on paper, Grads’ league campaign confirmed them as the most solid, steady team and the one with fewest weaknesses and greatest spread of experience.

But the more mercurial Larkfield – the last team to win the double two seasons ago – are very dangerous in a one-off final and are capable of victory.

They had the easier semi-final, romping to a 79-29 victory over top flight newcomers Causeway of Ballymoney while Grads booked their place in the decider by beating old rivals Belfast Ladies 57-44.

Saturday’s showpiece is a repeat of last year’s cup final in which Grads dethroned the then holders Larkfield, who will be hoping to reverse the scenario this time around though their confidence could be fragile after a chastening few months.

Knockbreda woman Oonagh McCullough is the leading Grads’ goal-getter but the 25-year-old doctor does much more than loitering in the shooting circle to pick off scores created by others.

Her hard work off the ball and bustling physical presence makes McCullough, Northern Ireland’s most improved player of the past 12 months, a handful for opponents and will be a key figure here.

Andersonstown woman Lisa McCaffrey, Northern Ireland’s 2011 World Cup vice-captain, is hoping to take some part in this weekend’s showpiece in spite of only managing half a game all season following foot surgery last August.

Graduates’ all-international line-up includes five of last summer’s Singapore squad plus former NI captain Bronagh McAfee from Glengormley.

 

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