COMMONWEALTHS: Willis to lead NI against Malawi

Northern Ireland's Hannah Willis. Photo: Presseye'''

Northern Ireland's Hannah Willis. Photo: Presseye'''

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Hannah Willis today leads Northern Ireland’s netball squad in their opening Commonwealth Games match against Malawi, the team ranked fifth in the world.

The Larne Grammar PE teacher, who has 11 years of international experience, acknowledges Northern Ireland aren’t expecting to be among the medals at the Games, but said the team has a “stretch target” of fifth.

The last time this squad competed in a tournament of this scale was at the 2011 World Championships in Singapore where they punched above their weight, finishing eighth.

Willis, from Newtownabbey, is hoping the team can achieve a similar result in Glasgow.

Whilst they can draw on the experiences from recent test matches in Trinidad and Tobago and Fiji, Willis believes the heartbreak of not qualifying for next year’s World Championships in Australia will provide added incentive to put the record straight.

“We didn’t perform to our full potential at the World Qualifiers in Cardiff,” she said. “Crucially, we lost our opening match to Scotland by one goal. In the end, that loss made the difference between qualifying and not qualifying.”

Northern Ireland will be hoping to avenge that defeat when they meet the Commonwealth hosts in the pool matches.

They face tough competition in their group, coming up against New Zealand (ranked 2nd), Jamaica (4th) and Malawi (5th). The outcome of the pool games will determine which classification match Northern Ireland take part in on either July 31 or August 1.

Northern Ireland Pool matches

Thursday, July 24: Malawi v Northern Ireland

Friday, July 25: Jamaica v Northern Ireland

Sunday, July 27 Northern Ireland v New Zealand

Monday, July 28 Northern Ireland v St Lucia

Wednesday, July 30 Scotland v Northern Ireland