O’Hanlon primed to face World Champions
By Richard Bullick
Bessbrook sports star Caroline O’Hanlon has had her status as a top international netballer reaffirmed ahead of facing world champions Australia in Bath this Friday.
Previously recognised as European player of 2010, O’Hanlon was named in the Team of the Northern Hemisphere when netball’s first world series finished before Christmas even though her work commitments had meant missing some of the tournament.
The last time Northern Ireland faced Australia was in a group game at the 2011 World Cup in Singapore and, although they inevitably lost, 75-33 was a respectable scoreline against a magnificent team who went on to retain the trophy.
For their part, the girls in green reached the quarter-finals for the first time, with O’Hanlon named NI’s player of the tournament and the commentators branded her personal performance against the Aussies sensational.
Friday’s fixture is a warm-up for Australia ahead of their Test series against England and should be a valuable learning exercise for O’Hanlon’s NI whose main aim in 2013 is to secure qualification for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Australia are a fully professional side who have a huge height advantage and the vastly experienced O’Hanlon – who has been playing international netball for a decade – admits they will present an incredibly difficult challenge.
However, just like the multi-talented ladies gaelic All Star is looking forward to Armagh’s return to the senior ranks this summer, she’s relishing the prospect of taking on the world’s top team in netball.
Lining out in the pivotal position of centre, the 28-year-old will be expected to get through an enormous workload in shielding her defence and trying to orchestrate attacks against the best in the business.
Although the Carrickcruppen captain made more headlines locally for being an influential figure in Armagh’s run to Ulster and All Ireland Intermediate Championship glory on the football field and subsequently being honoured with a deserved All Star, O’Hanlon also had an outstanding 2012 in her second sport.
The long-serving skipper of Lisburn netball club Larkfield, Caroline led them to the NI Cup final in April and, shortly after Armagh’s big day in Croke Park, to the top of the NI Premier League with a notable victory over champions Graduates.
In May she won with the Northern Panthers at the British Invitational Tournament in Glasgow before inspiring Northern Ireland to runners-up place for the first time ever – in 32 attempts – at the European Championships.
Six days after the Euro netball in Sheffield she won Player of the Tournament as Ulster reclaimed the interpro title in ladies football and then helped Armagh see off Fermanagh and Cavan to be crowned second tier provincial champions.
But before being central to Armagh’s run to Croke Park glory, Caroline went on tour to South Africa during which she played nine high level netball matches in 10 days – including being vice-captain of the Irish Students side which finished a fantastic fourth in the inaugural World University Championships in Cape Town.
Later in the year, after picking up her All Star and the All Ireland Intermediate Player of the Year title, she captained Northern Ireland’s netballers to victory over their Republic counterparts and shone in the World Premier Club Challenge in Glasgow.
Being included in netball’s Northern Hemisphere Select side at the end of that tournament neatly mirrored her ladies football All Star and represents a truly remarkable double – especially for someone who has to juggle her heavy sporting commitments with a demanding professional life as a hospital doctor.
O’Hanlon has, however, never been one to bask in past achievements and, come Christmas, her thoughts had already turned to the quest for fresh sporting success in the year ahead both on the football field and netball court.
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