I rooted for heroine Caroline O’Hanlon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and now enjoy being her teammate from Northern Ireland in Birmingham: Frances Keenan.

Frances Keenan watched Caroline O’Hanlon compete in Glasgow 2014 as a star-struck 14-year-old on a school trip and is now her teammate at these Commonwealth Games.

Choosing to play in her first major tournament is a dream come true for young netball player Callihanna, and having her hero captained in Birmingham makes her even more special.

Already a big star in both netball and Gaelic football, the distinguished former student O’Hanlon occupied a special pedestal when Keenan attended Newry’s Sacred Heart Grammar.

“Caroline is such an inspiring role model, a world class player who did an outstanding service in the green dress and did so much to make NI netball famous,” says Keenan.

“She has a huge amount of experience after almost two decades in international netball, but she is still as hungry and dedicated as ever, so she is a great example for the younger girls on the team.

“I am grateful for all the support she has given me and now being able to go to the Commonwealth Games with her is a total privilege and a moment where I can pinch myself.

“The wheel has come full circle since I watched Caroline in Glasgow eight years ago and this was my first chance to see elite netball in person and understand just how big the sport is.

“I was still in high school when she was the official flag bearer for the NI Gold Coast 2018 team, so I feel lucky to be in this position now, especially after the pandemic disrupted things for a while.”

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Frances Keenan meets her character Caroline O’Hanlon as a schoolgirl in Newry.

Keenan’s big July started with her graduation in finance from Queen’s University, and now the 22-year-old Belfast ladies’ team is gearing up to take on the world’s best teams.

“Preparing for the final exam actually took my mind off the selection of the squad, but this reduction was only the first step, and everyone continued to study hard for Birmingham,” she says.

After facing world champions New Zealand in Friday’s opening match, the NI Warriors will play further group games against Malawi, England, Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago.

Keenan is among the five big tournament rookies on Elaine Rice’s 12-man team, but three of her center court mates and vice-captain Phi Toner are all set for their third Games.

The only other player with previous Commonwealth experience is Michelle Magee, who was still a schoolgirl when she hit the deep end of the Gold Coast last time.

Powerful defender Magee is still the youngest player in the NI’s starting seven but is an established star who has started the last 13 British Super League games for the Leeds Rhinos this season.

The multi-faceted Magee is in contention for double tickets this Sunday as Northern Ireland’s match in Malawi clashes with the Women’s All-Ireland Gaelic Junior Final.

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Michel Magee of Northern Ireland in action against Malawi

Last August, Magee returned from Glasgow’s netball team the night before to score a 1-5 field goal, including the winning goal, in Antrim’s semi-final against Carlow.

However, the Safrons lost to Wicklow in the Crock Park exhibition and will be left without the imposing Magee when they face Fermanagh in a matching game this weekend.

Super League netball commitments with the Leeds Rhinos limited Magee’s performances in Antrim and manager Emma Kelly used her sparingly even when she was available.

“The conflict is, of course, unfortunate, but both Antrim and I have known about this situation since the beginning of the year, and I had a rather minor role,” Magee explains.

“It’s a special game with your county in Croke Park, but the Commonwealth Games are a huge event for any netball player and we qualified in Birmingham and that was a big goal.

“We had some great skirmishes with Malawi at the last Commonwealth and the 2019 World Cup so I will be fully focused on netball but right after that I will be waiting for Antrim results.

“Beating Wicklow last September was disappointing but the experience should be left for the girls and I think the team has progressed since then so I support them in winning.”