She may only be filling in for injured Graduates clubmate Gemma Gibney but Hannah Willis has her sights set on lifting a trophy as Northern Ireland netball captain.
The vastly experienced Willis will lead the girls in green in next week’s inaugural International Festival of Netball at Antrim Forum in regular skipper Gibney’s absence and has high hopes the host nation can make home comforts count.
Northern Ireland will have the crowd behind them against Botswana, St Lucia and Barbados.
“It’s great to be playing in our own country for a change – I’ve won over 50 caps at full international level but the vast majority of those matches have been played overseas,” reflects Willis. “These are the sort of opportunities we want as players, so it’s important to put our best foot forward next week and show what we can do.”
Northern Ireland go into this Festival invitational tournament ranked 11th, one place behind Barbados and one ahead of St Lucia with opening opponents Botswana the outsiders based on their 18th rank.
All are expected to be extremely physical sides, though the teams from the netball-mad Caribbean Islands will play a different style to the abrasive Africans and Willis says it will all be invaluable experience.
“As a squad we should learn lots from playing competitive matches against countries close to us in the world rankings and benefit from meeting teams with contrasting styles, so this type of tournament is exactly what we need.
“We’ve done well over the past few years but we want to go another notch higher and become more competitive against the top teams ahead of next summer’s Commonwealth Games.
“That means improving performance, achieving consistency and delivering results so our target is to win this Festival tournament and I think that is a realistic aim if we produce our best.
“It’s unfortunate Gemma’s missing and another experienced player Caroline O’Hanlon is still doubtful but we’re developing depth now and I’ll have confidence in whoever takes the court,” insists the 29-year-old.
Northern Ireland are in action at 5pm next Thursday, 7pm the following night and 1pm on the Saturday with Sunday’s final scheduled for 3pm. Tickets can be booked through Netball NI on 02892 668412.