No longer the ‘baby’ of the Scotland netball squad, Niamh McCall is now ready to step into the senior spotlight, writes Jack Lacey-Hatton.
When McCall went to the last Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, she was the youngest member of the team still a few months shy of her 18th birthday.
The Strathaven native was travelling down under for the experience rather than as a pivotal player down under.
Now thanks in part to the help of Scotland coach Tamsin Greenway, she wants to be part of a Thistles team that improves on their ninth-placed finish from 2018, when they take to the court in Birmingham.
“It definitely feels different this time around,” she said. “But I think that also comes with a lot more pressure.
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“I think when I went to the Gold Coast I was a wee baby, so there were no expectations on me.
“Now I’ve played more Superleague, people know what to expect and I feel there is a lot more responsibility on my shoulders.
“You don’t get another competition like this (the Commonwealth Games) and I want to make the most of it.
“To compete in this is something special.
“The expectation to perform still makes it nerve-wracking, but I will just focus on my own game and helping the team do well.”
This summer, Team Scotland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 250 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, McCall is looking for medal success.
And with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, McCall hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.
Scotland have a tough draw in Group A, with games against Australia, Jamaica and South Africa, alongside Wales and Barbados.
But Greenway, who won two Superleague titles with Wasps as director of netball, has improved the Thistles' organisation since taking the job in 2020 and hopes are high they can finish inside the top eight at a Commonwealth Games for the first time.
They open their campaign against the Aussie Diamonds on July 30 and although the challenge is daunting, McCall is relishing the opportunity to go up against the world’s best.
“We want to improve on it for sure,” she said. “We do have a tough group and are realistic about our goals, but there is no reason we can’t push on and improve upon the Gold Coast.
“To play the best team in the world is going to be something special, as well as extremely hard. But I can’t wait to get cracking.
“You’re never going to have that challenge, week-in, week-out in our sport. So we need to take those opportunities when they come around and see what we can take from it.
“We at least want to get our world ranking up and that is a realistic aim.”
The goal attack also revealed the Scotland squad have been engaging in some team bonding ahead of the Games.
“It has been hilarious actually,” quipped McCall. “Tamsin made sure we have done a lot to bring us together as a squad.
“We had an axe throwing session, which was a bit different.
“We’ve also got a talent show coming up but that is completely top secret! But we’re really connected as a team.”
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