12 days till the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 - Meet The Home Nations

2011 World Netball Championships - Day 7

As the Vitality Netball World Cup arrives in Liverpool, England are tipped as strong contenders for glory following their gold medal win in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

But they are not the only home nation competing.

GiveMeSport's Chloe Merrell spoke to captains Caroline O'Hanlon of PwC Northern Ireland Warriors and Claire Maxwell of the Scottish Thistles to hear their thoughts on all things netball ahead of the sport's pinnacle competition.

O'Hanlon and Maxwell share 193 caps between them, and if the wealth of netballing experience these two players possess is not enough to impress then perhaps their occupations will. Maxwell enjoys her work as a PE teacher whilst O'Hanlon, a qualified doctor, works as a GP.

Even more remarkably, both players work in addition to competing in the Vitality Netball Superleague, the UK's domestic league, throughout the year.

Despite what these two captains have achieved, and continue to achieve, both still could not hide their pride when asked about what selection meant to them.

"You know you need to be on your ‘A' game to get into the squad so any time your name gets put on that list to represent your country you're extremely proud. Whether it's your 90th cap or first cap it still gives you a wee bit of a nervous wait as you wait for the email to come through," shared Maxwell, who will obtain her 100th cap in the tournament.

"Every time you have an opportunity to represent your country it's a great honour," echoed O'Hanlon, "we have a really talented squad at the minute so it is an honour to be leading them."

In terms of preparation for the World Cup, the Thistles and the Warriors have undertaken very different journeys.

Northern Ireland welcomed the arrival of Dan Ryan from Adelaide Thunderbirds as head coach in November 2018, and Ryan demonstrated the strength of his coaching abilities when he assisted Manchester Thunder to their third Superleague title this year.

It is at Manchester Thunder where the Australian coach developed a close partnership with O'Hanlon.

"Obviously myself and Dan, coming off the back of success with Thunder, we were buzzing so it's great to bring that energy into the camp," said the 34-year-old excitedly. 

2011 World Netball Championships - Day 7

"To get the opportunity to see him in action over the Superleague season and to get to know him and to know how he coaches, his style and what he is looking for has been really helpful for my personal game and for the Northern Ireland team."

Indeed, the Northern Ireland captain won Player of the Month award in March for her Superleague performances at Thunder.

Ryan wasted no time putting his team to work as Northern Ireland welcomed Knights netball, a UK Men's team, for a warm-up fixture. O'Hanlon praised the decision to compete against a men's side, recognizing the benefits the match offers her team.

"They're big, they're physical and they're powerful, so they can replicate some of the other countries we will come up against."

"We were able to try and implement some of the things we will hopefully be able to do in the competition," the O'Hanlon added. 

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Scotland's preparations for the World Cup go far beyond the traditional time frame of other nations. 11 of the 12 selected for the Thistles' squad compete in the Superleague week-in-week-out as the Strathclyde Sirens, a franchise based in Scotland. Maxwell acknowledged the advantage of this unique situation for her side.

"It has allowed us to practice different things within pressured situations rather than the next pressured situation being the World Cup, so we're really happy with having that opportunity as a squad."

"Most people do a domestic competition and then come together in a camp-based program so we're in a very fortunate position and we'll be putting all that hard work and hours we've had as a team into practice when we changeover into that Scottish dress," beamed the 30-year-old captain.

By virtue of training together with more consistency and constancy than other national teams the Thistles' Captain also noted the effect, it has on the relationships within her squad.

"We're extremely used to each other. We know each other's flaws and we know each other's positives. It just makes us closer, to be honest, and it's a real privilege to stand side-by-side next to these girls that you know so well." 

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland will come up against the fierce competition in the group stages of the tournament. Scotland, in the toughest group going, will have to beat either England or Uganda in order to progress to the next round, and Northern Ireland will take on Australia in their first match.

O'Hanlon and Maxwell conveyed great optimism in the face of what will be significant tests of their abilities as captains and as players. Recognizing that in such matches where the opponent is looking for a tournament medal, both captains insisted that they must set their own targets.

"You go to the World Cup because you want to play against the best teams. Who better than to start off with than Australia and see where you are at?" The Thunder star asked with inspiring confidence.

Maxwell similarly embraced her side's on-coming challenge, "we try and make sure that each player in our squad gets an opportunity against the world's best teams. I'm really looking forward to it."

This year's home World Cup marks what many feels could be a turning point for netball and its reception in the U.K., and both Maxwell and O'Hanlon took time to reflect on the legacy they would like to create for the sport. 

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"It's more than just a game for us," remarked Maxwell passionately, "we want to make netball a choice for young girls. We want everyone to watch it and realize what a fantastic sport it is."

"I think it has that kind of perception that it's very like primary school netball but the international game is very ferocious, very fast and very dynamic. We just want to do our game justice."

The Warriors' captain drew attention to the way in which her side have, and continue to, defy odds and expectations, "I think even to date we've probably been achieving higher than we should be. We have a very small population of players and very limited resources. A lot our training and travel are self-funded so the fact that we're finishing seventh, eighth in World Cups is brilliant for us as a nation."

"This is a great opportunity for children and young players coming through to see the games and we hope they can see there is an opportunity for them to play at that level and to achieve things," added O'Hanlon on the impression she hopes Northern Ireland can leave behind. 

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When asked, lastly, to define the style of their teams' play, amusingly, both captains laughed as they conceded that it was not one reliant on height; O'Hanlon admitted wryly, "We obviously aren't massive in stature."

"We try to play a lot on the ground so with fast, powerful ball speed and change of direction. We have really good athletes; we try to use that as best we can. We have to move the ball fast and interplay a lot."

For Maxwell general tenacity would be her team's identifying feature.

"We're a determined bunch of ladies and it's that ‘never give up' attitude I feel like we've got. We're willing to do whatever it takes to get our team across the line in the best way possible. We bring real hustle on the court."

"We bring our own brand. Definitely, in defence, we are relentless for the full 60."

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