Caroline nets Commonwealth call
Tuesday, 17 June 2014
BEING named in Northern Ireland's Commonwealth Games squad less than 48 hours after leading the Armagh gaelic team to a great victory over Tyrone in the Athletic Grounds was a special start to last week for Bessbrook sportswoman Caroline O'Hanlon.
Official confirmation of her inclusion came as no surprise for O'Hanlon has been one of Northern Ireland's leading netballers for many years, but is still hugely exciting for the multi-talented 29-year-old.
O'Hanlon has achieved so much in both her sports but up until now an appearance at the Commonwealths was missing from her roll of honour as the Northern Ireland netball team has never previously qualified.
Selection for Glasgow 2014 also comes as a timely boost for the classy centre, whose hopes of playing in next year's World Cup in Australia were recently dashed by a devastating double whammy of narrow defeats.
Northern Ireland agonisingly missed out on a place at Sydney 2015 courtesy of losing 45-44 to Scotland and 51-43 to hosts Wales at the European Championships a couple of weeks ago.
This year's Euros were doubling up as the regional qualifier for the World Cup with those three teams effectively fighting for two tickets to the sport's showcase event as the Republic of Ireland were rank outsiders.
The girls in green went into the opening game against resurgent Scotland as favourites based on a great record of not having lost to their opponents in the last six meetings.
The most recent defeat ironically came the last time the Euros were held in Cardiff four years ago, though Northern Ireland bounced back later to beat both the Scots and Welsh in Glasgow in the dedicated regional qualifier for the 2011 World Cup in Singapore.
But the huge investment in Scottish netball aimed at making them competitive Commonwealth Games hosts has started to pay dividends recently with wins over Wales and in a Test series against Trinidad.
In spite of an outstanding display by O'Hanlon, the Scots edged a titanic tussle by the minimum margin leaving Northern Ireland facing an uphill task to claim a World Cup place.
They bounced back by thrashing the Republic 84-25, though the scoring rate dropped after O'Hanlon was taken off to save her for the decisive showdown with Wales when a one-goal win would have seen Northern Ireland edge their hosts by virtue of winning the head-to-head clash.
For most of the match, it was exceptionally tight with the teams level at least once in each of the first three quarters. With a partisan crowd behind them, Wales bounced back from an early deficit to lead 13-12 at the first break and were two up at half-time on a 25-23 scoreline.
An even third quarter left Northern Ireland entering the last still with a chance trailing 38-36 but with captain Hannah Willis limping off they fell away a little as Wales, who retained their title in the process, pulled clear to the crowd's delight.
A week can feel like a long time in sport and bouncing back to lead Armagh's stirring rout of Tyrone ensured O'Hanlon experienced completely contrasting emotions on successive Sundays, but she admits the Cardiff catastrophe has hit her hard.
“Missing out on World Cup qualification is an enormous setback for Northern Ireland netball but also absolutely devastating at a personal level for those of us who had our sights set on Sydney," she reflects.
“It will be hard to ever really get over that but thankfully the Commonwealths coming up gives us something positive to focus on and in my case Armagh's match against Tyrone the following weekend was the perfect chance to get back on the horse quickly.
“Unfortunately netball has not yet been included in the Olympics so the Commonwealths, as a major international multi-sports event, is the next best thing and the Glasgow Games have become an even more precious competition now we've failed to qualify for the next World Cup."
Commonwealths selection gives Orchard captain O'Hanlon extra incentive to lead her team to
victory over Donegal this Sunday as a win
would avoid Armagh having to go into the first round of the qualifiers next month without their talismanic skipper.
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