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Gibraltar Netball U21 grab first win against Republic or Ireland

Gibraltar 41-36 Republic of Ireland

Gibraltar's first match of the Europe Netball Open Challenge Under 21 championship brought them up against the Republic of Ireland in Sheffield. With a somewhat small crowd to play in front of, the youth champions did not have the added pressure of a crowd to play against as they debuted in an Under 21 championship. This was the Under 21s' first true test in this category ahead of the 2025 World Youth Championships, which will be hosted in Gibraltar. Covid and postponements of other competitions at this level have seen Gibraltar without an Under 21 squad.

With the World Youth Championships now approaching, the importance of establishing a true squad becomes ever more apparent as other nations announce their own squads. A nervy start for Gibraltar saw them lose possession from an early turnover, which saw the Republic of Ireland put their name down first on the board.

Gibraltar's Under 21 team had some players who already had senior team experience in the Challenge tournaments, and they soon settled the game down. Truman Davies produced the first points, which saw Gibraltar turn the score around quickly and take the lead at 2-1. Unfortunately for Gibraltar, just as the Republic of Ireland leveled, Gibraltar lost possession almost immediately, giving the Republic of Ireland a chance to go ahead. Some strong defending, however, saw Gibraltar move quickly back up the court and come back level. A chance to take the lead from their own center pass was now taken, providing Gibraltar with the lead once again. Such was the tight balance between the two sides that the Republic of Ireland almost immediately leveled before Gibraltar added their fifth.

Gibraltar's defensive pressure was starting to pay off, although Gibraltar was unable to get a quick two-point lead from it. The match was soon warming up with a quick-paced game. Gibraltar, like its senior team, played the quick passing game, which had worked well in the past. However, it was the Republic of Ireland who retook the lead and notched their first two-point lead as they went 7-5 ahead. Hurried shooting was letting them down, but Gibraltar did keep pace as they narrowed the gap to one point. Players who had played at the senior level asserted themselves as they came back to take the lead, with Mena putting Gibraltar 8-7 ahead. They then scored the next point to put Gibraltar two points ahead. Gibraltar had turned the score around by four points in a matter of minutes in what was turning out to be an exciting match. The Republic of Ireland leveled at 9-9 with two minutes left on the clock for the first quarter. This time it was the Republic of Ireland who turned the scores around as they took the lead at 10-9 before Mena again leveled.

Gibraltar was unfortunate to see the Republic of Ireland surge ahead to 12-10 after some good defending, but Ireland secured the points in the final half-minute of the quarter. The second quarter saw Gibraltar go straight into the match looking to score early, with Mena scoring. Some good movement from the center pass saw Gibraltar level at 12-12, as Gibraltar showed their mettle with some tough challenges, to which there were no complaints from Gibraltar players who just got on with it. Again, it was Mena who put Gibraltar ahead at 13-12. Yet again, like in the first quarter, the match was being played with such tight margins that the Republic of Ireland had a chance to level after an intercept. However, Gibraltar regained possession with their own intercept to grab the opportunity and win the point. The Republic of Ireland maintained the momentum of putting pressure forward and looking to disrupt Gibraltar's play, as they leveled at 15-15 and then retook the lead at 16-15. Gibraltar came back to level almost immediately. McQuisten was among one of the outstanding defensive players for Gibraltar, with some solid defending that ensured Gibraltar had the opportunity to retake the lead. There was no letting off the accelerator for Gibraltar as the Republic of Ireland continued to make a comeback, even though they had gone behind by two points once again. Ireland leveled at 18-18 with three minutes to go for halftime before Gibraltar retook the lead again, and again the Republic of Ireland leveled. And if the excitement was not enough, the Republic of Ireland leveled again, and both defenses made intercepts before the Republic of Ireland took the lead at 21-20. A rare miss by Mena gave the Republic of Ireland a chance to go two points ahead with thirty seconds to go. Gibraltar missed a second chance in the final seconds, with the Republic of Ireland going into the break two points ahead at 22-20.

The crowd at Sheffield had increased somewhat, with the noise levels much higher as both teams continued to produce a tantalizing, exciting encounter where neither was yet favorites as the second half started. Gibraltar came out leveling the score at 22-22, once again showing that they were going to put in their all. The Republic of Ireland did not sit back and retook the lead to go two points ahead again. Truman Davis brought it back to one point before Mena leveled. With Gibraltar having the center pass, the battle in center court became crucial, with Ireland just edging it momentarily as they retook the lead at 26-24. Truman-Davis, so as not to disappoint, leveled at 26-26. The scriptwriters of this match did not fail to keep spectators on the edge of their seats. Neither side allowed the other to go further than a two-point lead as they entered the latter part of the third quarter. Gibraltar showed some great skills, passing through the middle of the court with quick one-touch passes as they maintained the match at one point from Ireland. Great positioning from McQuisten stopped Ireland from taking a three-point lead just as it looked like Gibraltar had provided Ireland with some space. Instead, Gibraltar narrowed the gap to one point at 29-28. Combination passing between Hartman, Hernandez, Truman Davis, alongside Mena, saw Gibraltar come back and produce the equalizer and then add the final points, where Gibraltar took a two-point lead in the final seconds. Gibraltar went into the final quarter 31-29 ahead but knew that there was no margin for error in a match where the lead was constantly swapping hands.

As the Republic of Ireland narrowed the gap to 31-30, O'Leary was forced to limp off injured. This was a blow for them as she had been instrumental in keeping the score close with Gibraltar. Phoebe Claire, who had only just come on, leveled the score even though she was under pressure with the focus on her. Gibraltar took the lead again. However, Claire was proving problematic for McQuisten as she scored again. Gibraltar retook the lead, and McQuisten soon adapted to the new gameplay from Ireland, making a crucial intercept. This gave Gibraltar the opportunity to take a two-point lead at 32-34. A chance to go three ahead was lost due to an offside call, although Gibraltar regained possession and went looking for that goal. Gibraltar, for the first time, took a three-goal lead. The pressure was now on Gibraltar's defense as the Republic of Ireland piled on the pressure. Gibraltar's defense played its part and kept its composure as they ran the time down and intercepted. Playing under pressure, Gibraltar kept possession, moved the ball around, and soon found themselves four goals ahead. They soon went 37-32 ahead with seven minutes left to play. What was now becoming a power surge from Gibraltar, who did not ease off the pedal, allowed them to increase their lead further to 39-32. They forced errors from the Republic's shooters, which allowed Gibraltar to regain possession. The seconds ticked away as Gibraltar now had a more comfortable lead that they were determined not to lose. Some impressive juggling around the post by Truman Davis provided Mena with the ball for Gibraltar's 40th goal. As the Republic of Ireland added to their own score, Gibraltar responded by scoring themselves, keeping the seven-point lead at 34-41. A confident and determined Gibraltar provided an impressive fourth quarter throughout the court as they stepped away with a 36-41 victory. After three tightly contested quarters, Gibraltar stepped forward in the final quarter to provide the power surge that pushed them over the line and secured their first victory.

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