CRAIGAVON woman Louise McKeown experienced a taste of big-time netball last week in Cape Town as Northern Ireland took on the team ranked fifth in the world in their wn back yard.
The girls in green lost the Test series 3-0 to hosts South Africa but came close to pulling off what would have been Northern Ireland’s most famous victory in the final match at the Good Hope Centre.
Ahead in the opening period and only trailing by a single goal at half-time before a one-sided third quarter really damaged their chances, the tourists battled back again in the last 15 minutes to close the gap to three.
They eventually lost 58-52 but their contribution to a cracking contest earned real respect from their illustrious opponents and a partisan South African crowd, who probably expected the Proteas would round off the series by running riot.
McKeown didn’t feature in the final fixture as coach Jill McIntosh stuck with her starting seven throughout but started in the previous evening’s 66-42 defeat having come on as a sub in the opener which the home team won 61-37.
Double World Cup winning Aussie supremo McIntosh was delighted with her team’s improvement during the series and described this sort of experience against top-class opposition as vital to Northern Ireland’s hopes of further progress.
Northern Ireland finished as runners-up for the first time at May’s European Championships in Sheffield but McKeown and her colleagues admitted that this series was a noticeable step-up in terms of the pace and intensity.