O’Hanlon set to net half century
By Richard Bullick
Star player Caroline O’Hanlon is set to win her 50th cap for Nothern Ireland this weekend at the European Netball Championships in Sheffield. Barring injury, the Bessbrook woman will reach the notable landmark in Saturday’s game against Scotland but as always winning will be the only thing that matters to Northern Ireland’s leading lady.
Having finished fourth and third in the last two Euro events, the girls in green want to go one better and take second spot behind inevitable winners England as they seek to build on last summer’s successful World Cup campaign in the Far East.
And they will go into the tournament on a high having rounded off a three-day warm-up event in Glasgow the weekend before last with a convincing victory over their Scottish hosts – a repeat performance and result on O’Hanlon’s 50th senior appearance would be just what this doctor ordered.
It is a tribute to Caroline’s incredible drive and commitment as well as tremendous natural talent that she has successfully combined a distinguished international netball career with not only her professional life as a doctor but being one of the top ladies Gaelic footballers in the country.
O’Hanlon has been an influential figure for Northern Ireland for most of the past decade since being selected for the 2003 World Cup squad shortly before finishing her A levels at Sacred Heart in Newry.
In more recent times, she won European player of 2010 and was also named Northern Ireland’s player of last year’s World Cup having inspired the greens to a first ever appearance in the tournament quarter-finals with some superb individual displays.
But now the 27-year-old wants the team to take fresh steps forward under new world-class coach Jill McIntosh, who steered her native Australia to two World Cup triumphs at the end of last century having previously lifted the trophy as a player.
In spite of O’Hanlon’s side punching above their weight in the Far East last summer, Caroline came home with some sense of what might have been after an agonising near miss against South Africa (46-41) denied Northern Ireland the chance of a sensational top-five finish.
“What happened in Singapore has left us with a good mix of optimism and hunger in that we did well enough to give us confidence and encouragement but ended up not fully satisfied thanks to coming so close to another major scalp,” she reasons.
“The World Cup was a great experience for everyone and we can be proud of our efforts and what was achieved under Elaine (Rice, the previous coach) but that tournament was 10 months ago and now we’re eager to get going again.
“In some ways it’s a fresh start, with the change of coach and also a new cycle leading through to the 2014 Commonwealths and the following year’s World Cup, but most of the Singapore squad are still there making the commitment as there’s more we want to achieve and a belief we’re capable of it.
She continued, “And apart from bragging rights or European Championship placings, results really matter this weekend as world rankings will determine who qualifies for the Commonwealths. Scotland get in automatically as hosts but ourselves and Wales will be battling it out.”
The Glasgow warm-up event was particularly useful not only for McIntosh to see her players in match situations for the first time but because it replicated this weekend’s format of three games in three days and bridged a longer gap than usual from the end of the domestic season a few weeks ago to the Euros, which normally take place at the end of April.
“Glasgow should stand to us in that the weekend was a chance for players to get game-time and offered us very competitive match-practice and beating the Scottish side 54-38 on the last day means we can go into the Europeans in a positive frame of mind,” she said.
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