The 2014 Commonwealth Games are upon us and a strong contingent of athletes from East Antrim will be giving every ounce they’ve got, competing as part of the largest-ever Northern Ireland team.
Steven Ward (boxing), Hannah Willis (netball), Danielle Hill (swimming), Christine McMahon (athletics), Martin McHugh (bowls) and Amanda Mogey (table tennis) are among the 117-strong squad. The local area is also represented by Sally McGarel, the ladies’ bowls team manager, while Joy Alexander and Pam Brown are set to officiate at the track and field events at Hampden Park.
Around 40,000 spectators are expected to descend on Celtic Park for a glittering opening ceremony which is set to feature music from Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle as well as the finale to the Queen’s Baton Relay.
For our most experienced Commonwealth competitor, Martin McHugh, it’s a fifth opening ceremony - his first coming in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur.
The Larne native described the glittering curtain-raisers as “hair-raising” experiences and he expects Glasgow to be no different.
McHugh, among the most decorated of Irish bowlers, is competing in the Pairs and Singles events as he goes in search of another medal (or two) to add to the gold he won in the Fours in Kuala Lumpur.
“It’s a case of the old cliché of taking things one game at a time and try and get out of the qualifiers,” he said. “I haven’t really set any targets but I know if I play well, I will do well. That’s the key.”
He added: “I know if I take care of my own, I’ll be OK. I have good form at the minute and hopefully that will continue.”
The youngest competitor from this part of the world is Carnmoney’s Danielle Hill. At the tender age of 14, the Larne Swimming Club talent is keen to soak up the experience of her first Games.
She follows in the footsteps of Andrew Reid (Kuala Lumpur 1998) and Conor Leany (Delhi 2010) as only the third member of Larne SC to be named in a Commonwealth squad.
Hill is set to take part in the 50m, 100m, 200m backcrawl (her preferred stroke), the 4 x 100m freestyle relay and the 4 x 100m individual medley relay. She is also in action in the also 100 and 200m freestyle.
“As a bonus I would love to get to the semi-finals or the finals,” she said in an interview with the Times last month.
“The 50m backcrawl is what I qualified in, so I’m hoping to maybe get a semi-final place out of it, but if that doesn’t happen, the experience is there.”
Heavyweight fighter Steven Ward (Monkstown Amateur Boxing Club) is aiming to go one better than his 2010 silver medal success in Delhi. But he’s aware there’s a lot of hard work to be done before he can realise his ambition.
“I went out for gold last time and I’ll go out for gold this time,” he said. “Some people might think I have a more realistic chance because I got silver last time, but you are only as good as your last fight is the old saying in the boxing game.
“I can’t take anything for granted. It’s good to know that I’m up there and that I deserve to be there.”
Jordanstown native Hannah Willis captains the Northern Ireland netball squad which is making its debut at the Games.
The Larne Grammar PE teacher, who has 11 years of international experience, skippers the 12-strong squad in Glasgow where they will go head-to-head with 2010 gold medal winners New Zealand, hosts Scotland, and St Lucia among others.
Northern Ireland get their campaign under way with a tricky match against Malawi (July 24), who finished in fifth spot at the 2010 Games. Their opener at the SECC is a match in which Willis and the team are aiming to spring a surprise.
“We have a few games that we can definitely win and the Malawi clash is something we are going to target as possibly an outsider game but, you know, if we win that and we’re doing really well in the group it would be great,” she said. “Our targets are to beat St Lucia and Scotland. Malawi would be an extra bonus for us. That’s how were looking at the group at the minute.”
Willis said the team’s stretch target is fifth but admitted they would be happy enough with eighth - exactly the spot they finished up in at the World Championships.
Glengormley’s Christine McMahon will take to the track at Hampden Park competing in the 400m hurdles. It’s the Queen’s University student’s second Commonwealth Games, having ran with Katie Kirk in the 4x400 relay in Delhi four years ago.
Earlier this year, the 21-year-old took silver at the British University Championships in a time of 59.23. She then finished fourth at the Loughborough International in a personal best 57.63.
Table tennis talent Amanda Mogey is also aiming for success. The Carnmoney girl is set to compete in the Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles and the Team Event.