HANNAH Irvine has had no shortage of significant sporting achievements to celebrate in recent months but the Larne Grammar PE teacher wants one more big scalp before she puts her feet up for the summer.
The multi-talented Jordanstown woman won the NI league and cup double with Graduates in netball while her Victorians hockey team topped Section One of the Ulster League to book a place in the top flight for next season.
She also helped Northern Ireland clinch runners-up place at netball’s European Championships for the first time ever and was officially crowned Belfast Sportswoman of the Year.
It’s been a memorable 2012 but the 27-year-old who left for Cape Town on Friday morning hungry for more success as Northern Ireland prepare for a daunting three Test series against South Africa, ranked fifth in the world, in their own backyard.
This time last year, Irvine played a prominent role in Northern Ireland’s impressive World Cup campaign in the Far East when the girls in green reached the quarter-finals for the first time and only an agonising 46-41 defeat by South Africa denied them a place in the top six.
But that match has fuelled belief that Jill McIntosh’s team can get one over their hosts on this tour though South Africa’s recent Test series win over World Cup semi-finalists Jamaica is a stark reminder of their pedigree.
Seven of the NI squad are already there, competing for the Irish Students team in the inaugural World University Championships – in which incidentally they lost their opening group game 57-47 to the hosts on Monday.
There will be an onus on NI vice-captain Irvine to bring an infusion of fresh energy as some of the team are facing an overall schedule of nine matches in 10 days and she’s certainly relishing the challenge.
“This series is a great opportunity to test how far we’ve progressed since last year under (double World Cup winning coach) Jill McIntosh and I feel we can approach these matches with confidence after our recent success at the Europeans.
“It’s a tough schedule for our key players involved in the other tournament but we’ve had our sights set on this series for a long time so I’m sure they’ll stay focused for three more matches, especially with the incentive of gaining ranking points towards Commonwealth Games qualification.
“The aim is to produce three solid performances and hopefully grab at least one win in the series. It will be very tough, especially with their height advantage at either end of the court, but we’re ready to give it our best shot,” says Hannah.