Sky’s the limit for O’Hanlon
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
BESSBROOK sportswoman Caroline O'Hanlon will be live on Sky Sports tonight (Tuesday) as she returns to action in netball's British SuperLeague after a one-year absence, writes Richard Bullick.
Last autumn, Northern Ireland captain O'Hanlon was unveiled as one of four high-profile overseas signings by the Scottish Sirens franchise who host fellow newcomers Wasps Netball at Glasgow's Emirates Arena (7.45pm) in front of a sell-out crowd of 4000.
Scotland's first professional netball team are one of three brand new outfits who will be competing in an expanded 10-team SuperLeague in 2017 having been brought in along with Coventry-based Wasps and Worcester-centred Severn Stars, with Yorkshire Jets dropping out.
Northern Ireland's most capped international netballer of all time, Armagh ladies gaelic great O'Hanlon previously played SuperLeague for Tyneside-based franchise Team Northumbria for two years from 2014.
The only NI-based player involved in SuperLeague this season, the 32-year-old is joined at the Sirens by Jamaican greats Carla Borrego and Althea Byfield along with Kiwi Ellen Halpenny while Scotland captain Claire Brownie has come home from 2013 BSL champions Team Bath to skipper the side.
Domestically, O'Hanlon is on the verge of leading Lisburn-based Larkfield to their fourth NI Premier League title on the trot in her 10th season as club captain.
She won Player of the tournament in December 2015 as Northern Ireland lifted the Nations Cup in Singapore and hopes to lead the girls in green into next year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Having finished a superb seventh at Glasgow 2014, O'Hanlon's side will qualify for the event if they retain their place in the top 12 of the world rankings in the coming months.
“It's exciting to be involved with the Sirens, they've an extremely professional set-up and have put together a strong squad for this first SuperLeague campaign," says the European Player of 2010.
“I'm looking forward to playing with and against so many of the world's leading netballers over the coming months and that can only benefit my own game.
“The big goal in netball is Northern Ireland qualifying for next year's Commonwealth Games in Australia and if we get there this fresh SuperLeague experience should stand to me.
“It will obviously be a very busy schedule for me with the Armagh gaelic too along with work but I'm grateful for the opportunity to keep playing both sports to the highest level."
This spring has a real sense of fresh beginnings for O'Hanlon, who in her professional life has just started her new job as a GP in Newry having switched from being a hospital doctor at Daisy Hill.
Playing ladies gaelic for her county is nothing new but Armagh have a change of manager this season with Tyrone native Sean O'Kane taking over the Orchard helm from homegrown hero Ronan Clarke.
After finishing joint second in NFL Division One last spring, Armagh had a miserable summer as they emphatically fell at the first hurdle in both their Ulster and All-Ireland Championship campaigns.
The O'Kane era began with a disappointing defeat away to his previous side Donegal last month but they bounced back to shock Cork next time out with a deserved victory by 0-12 to 0-9.
It was the first time Armagh have even beaten ladies gaelic's most successful county, who have won the last six All-Irelands and an astonishing 11 titles in the past 12 years. The orangewomen's win was akin to Ireland defeating the New Zealand All Blacks in rugby.
“The Donegal defeat certainly wasn't the start to the National League we wanted but there was a great response against Cork with a much improved performance paving the way for what was an historic result," reflects triple All Star O'Hanlon.
“We felt in decent shape going into the Donegal game but gave away two goals in the first few minutes and that gave them momentum. On the day, our concentration and work-rate weren't good enough.
“Preparing to face Cork we actually didn't talk a lot about the opposition, the week was all about putting together an acceptable performance for ourselves after failing to do so against Donegal and the most pleasing thing was the way we worked really hard for each other.
“Perhaps people expected we'd win one of our first two matches so that's where we are but in the grand scheme of things I think we'll take more from having done it this way round.
“We still won't fear Donegal in June's Ulster Championship semi-final but beating Cork for the first time is important psychologically even if they were missing some very recognisable names.
“They had hammered Kerry the previous Sunday, scoring 5-17, with the team that played us, so although we won't get carried away with winning one early league game, it's a very encouraging base to build upon.
“Of course we need to keep progressing and achieve consistency - last spring we defeated Dublin for the first time ever and then didn't win another game all year so everyone is under no illusions that one-off victories are enough.
“With an incredibly competitive Division One this season it'll be big game all the way with each coming down to who performs best on the day so that should be perfect preparation for our Ulster Championship campaign," said the 2014 All-Ireland Player of the Year.
Between last weekend's Mayo's match and Armagh's trip to Galway this Sunday, O'Hanlon has two big games in Glasgow with Sirens hosting Wasps Netball tonight and then Welsh franchise Celtic Dragons on Saturday.
That O'Hanlon can cope so well with such a punishing schedule is testament to the hunger and fitness of an outstanding sportswoman who recently came runner-up to another local hero Rory Best in the Player of the Year category at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
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