Fantastic Four for Gold Coast

Fantastic Four for Gold Coast

10 January 2018

FOUR local sporting gladiators will take part in the Commonwealth Games in Australia later this year.  

Saintfield’s Paul McCreery, Gemma Lawlor, from Loughinisland, and Portaferry duo Noleen Lennon and Ciara Mageean are part of the 88-strong Northern Ireland team heading to the Gold Coast in Queensland in three months’ time.

McCreery is the Irish No 1 table tennis player, while Lawlor and Lennon are experienced netball internationals.

However, hopes of a medal will largely rest on track star Mageean in the 1500m. 

Twenty-five year-old McCreery, who has won the Irish senior title three times, has represented Ireland at four World Championships and also took part in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

One of his ambitions is to win a Commonwealth medal, but he faces fierce competition for  a podium place.

The experience gained in competing in the World Team Championships in Tokyo in 2014 and in the last Commonwealth Games in Scotland will stand him in good stead.

European Championships bronze medallist Mageean, who recently split with coach Jerry Kiernan and moved to Manchester, is a real medal prospect in the 1500m after recovering from an ankle injury.

The Irish indoor record holder for 1500m and the mile, she represented Ireland at the 2016 

Summer Olympics in Rio and if she can attain full fitness, then a podium place is a realistic objective. 

Thirty-three year-old Lennon and 30 year-old Lawlor are long-standing members of the Northern Ireland netball team.

Lennon, who plays for Belfast Ladies, is an established international and played in the 2014 Games in Scotland. She also played in the World Championships in Singapore in 2011 and the 2003 Championships in Jamaica.

She won a silver medal with Northern Ireland in the European Championships in 2012 and 2017 and has collected 89 international caps.

Lawlor, who also plays for Belfast Ladies, took part in the Glasgow Games and in the World Championships in Singapore when Northern Ireland finished eighth.

Capped 79 times, she has silver medals from the European Championships in 2012 and 2017.

Both girls would love to finish in the top eight in Australia and also qualify for the next World Championships which will be held in Liverpool in 2019.

They are currently focused in training for the World Championship qualifiers in Scotland later this month. 

England automatically qualify and there are two spots left between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

Northern Ireland had a one goal win over both Scotland and Wales back in October and the forthcoming qualifiers will be tightly contested, but the girls have been training hard and are confident they will qualify for Liverpool.

“We are currently ranked eighth in the world after a successful 2017 campaign,” Lawlor said.

“We finished second in Netball Europe and also won test matches against Fiji, Barbados, Singapore and the Republic of Ireland.

“We leave for Australia on March 23, which is earlier than other sports as we have a pre-tournament event in Tasmania to attend.

“We will play a series of tough matches that will be great preparation for us before we begin our Commonwealth Games campaign on April 5 against Australia, who are the world’s top team.

“We play in Pool A of the competition which consists of Australia, Jamaica, South Africa, Barbados, Fiji and Northern Ireland. Netball in Australia is massive. Their international athletes are fully professional,” she added. 

“The fan base for netball in Australia is phenomenal with netball tickets for the Games selling out within hours of being released. This is therefore an opportunity we cannot wait to experience.

“We also look forward to being part of the whole NI team in this multi-sport event and look forward to supporting the NI athletes over the range of sports.” 

“I would like to thank Brennan’s Ice Cream, Loughinisland, and Lawlor Plumbing and Heating for supporting me and Noleen would like to thank Armstrong Opticians, Newcastle, for their sponsorship.”