Sports

O'Hanlon nets golden ticket

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

BESSBROOK sportswoman Caroline O'Hanlon can now officially look forward to leading the Northern Ireland netball team at next spring's Commonwealth Games in Australia, writes Richard Bullick.
Qualification confirmation came when the International Netball Federation published the updated world rankings which have Northern Ireland moving up into 1enth position.
Teams needed to be in the top 12 by the official cut-off date of July 1 to qualify for Gold Coast 2018 and Armagh gaelic star O'Hanlon's side have had an anxious wait to learn their qualification fate.
The girls in green had done all they could by beating ninth-ranked Barbados twice en route to winning a quadrangular invitational tournament in Lisburn last month, O'Hanlon lifting her first trophy as Northern Ireland captain following a 35-33 triumph in a pulsating final.
However with so many matches taking place elsewhere and some surprise results feeding into the complex mathematical calculations, they weren't sure whether it would be enough for qualification.
Uganda's shock win over the world's sixth best team Malawi had caused consternation as that high-value victory was believed likely to see them leapfrog Northern Ireland.
That prediction proved well-founded with the Africans climbing from 13th to ninth in the new rankings, but Northern Ireland have hopped above Barbados and Scotland into 10th.Barbados were already assured of their place having upset neighbouring giants Jamaica and whitewashing Trinidad 3-0 in a Test series before coming here for the Quad Series.
However the double defeat against Elaine Rice's side drops them down to 11th with recently inactive Scotland just squeezing through ahead of Trinidad for the final ticket to Australia.With 93 ranking points, the Scots are seven behind Barbados and only two ahead of Trinidad so they wouldn't have made it but for the latter's poor recent results against their Caribbean rivals.
The other netball nations to qualify for Gold Coast 2018 are hosts Australia, New Zealand, England, Jamaica, South Africa, Malawi, Fiji and Wales.At Glasgow 2014, Northern Ireland finished fourth in their group courtesy of two wins including one over Commonwealth hosts Scotland, before beating Wales in the seventh place play-off.
Qualification confirmation came as a great relief to the Northern Ireland players with captain O'Hanlon admitting that it had been an "incredibly nervous few weeks waiting for definite news.
“There was great euphoria after beating Barbados in that incredibly close Quad Series final and at least we knew we'd done all we could by winning that tournament, but nobody was counting chickens."Our coach kept crunching the numbers but with so many variables we weren't just sure how the maths would work out when everything was factored in so hearing we've made it is a massive relief and breaking into the world's top 10 is the icing on the cake.
The Commonwealths are the pinnacle for any netballer and after such a memorable experience at Glasgow 2014 we're delighted to be heading to Gold Coast next April," she enthused.
“The Quad final was an exceptionally physical, competitive match against a strong Barbados side which had come here off the back of some very impressive results and were smarting from losing to us a couple of days earlier.
“The home crowd was fantastic for us and definitely helped get us over the line even when we made hard work of it in the last quarter.  Qualification for the Commonwealths is a big boost for everyone involved in Northern Ireland netball and should help put the sport in the shop window between now and the Games."
The European Championships are coming up in October but for now O'Hanlon's full focus is on Armagh's All Ireland bid, beginning with this Saturday's qualifier against Leinster runners-up Westmeath with a quarter-final against Munster champions Kerry awaiting the winners.

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