Gold Coast countdown for O'Hanlon

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

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CAPTIAN Caroline O'Hanlon and her Northern Ireland netball team have arrived in Tasmania for their training camp ahead of next month's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

The Bessbrook sportswoman and her colleagues left Dublin last Friday morning on the first leg of their long journey to the land of Oz, as preparation for facing some of international netball's top teams over the next few weeks enter their final phase.

On arrival in Australia, it was first stop Brisbane to check into the athletes' village before flying to Tasmania where Armagh gaelic ace O'Hanlon and her girls in green will have three warm-up matches this week in a mini-tournament.

"It was a delayed flight so it was late Sunday night when we got in here but that was fine for we're obviously still adjusting our sleep patterns and anyway I was waiting for the good news from Armagh's game against Laois back home," said O'Hanlon.

"Australia is a long way but this group gets on very well and there's an absolute buzz to finally get here and taste the excitement which is building in Queensland especially ahead of the Games.

"It's great that we've been able to come out early and this time in Tasmania should be benificial for us in terms of acclimatisation to the country, the chance to train together every day like the professional players we'll be facing and also getting to play these warm-up matches.

"We've had a community engagement event at a local primary school this morning (Mon) and tomorrow evening have our first warm-up match against Wales, who we beat in January's World Cup qualifier.

"It should be useful for both teams and we aren't in the same group for the Games though it's possible we could meet in a cross-over game at the end like the last Commonwealth in Glasgow."

Tomorrow will involve training and more ambassadorial duties ahead of facing Melbourne-based Suncorp Super Netball team Collingwood Magpies on Thursday night at the same Silverdome venue in Launceston where they play Wales.

O'Hanlon's team travel to Hobart on Friday morning and take on the Tasmanian state side, who compete in the second tier Australian Netball League, on Saturday before flying back to Brisbane.

Northern Ireland's first fixture of Gold Coast 2018 takes place next Thursday when they have the honour but daunting task of facing world champions, host nation and tournament favourites Australia in front of a capacity crowd on the opening night.

Two days later they come up against fifth seeds South Africa and then take on Caribbean giants Jamaica on the Sunday before their second and final rest day of an intense schedule which features six games in eight days.

With netball being a sport dominated by Commonwealth countries, the world's top 12 teams are all here so if Northern Ireland are to live up to their ranking of eighth or emulate their superb effort finishing seventh at Glasgow 2014 they must come fourth in their group.

Upsetting South Africa would open up the prospect of making the top six but, more realistically, the girls in green need to win their last two group games, against Barbados and Fiji next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Both teams have generally been above Northern Ireland in the world rankings down through the years, with Fiji occupying seventh spot for a prolonged period, but O'Hanlon's side have beaten both last year.

They beat Barbados twice en route to winning last June's Quad Series, the victory in the final clinching qualification for Gold Coast 2018 at the expense of Trinidad, and defeated Fiji in a one-off Test played alongside the European Championships in Cardiff in October.

The top two teams in each group make the Commonwealth Games semi-finals with the other four facing cross-over games against the team finishing in the same position in the other pool.

With defending champions New Zealand, medal hopefuls England and formidable Malawi likely to occupy the top three positions in Pool B, if Northern Ireland finish fourth they would expect to come up against powerful Uganda or one of their celtic cousins, Scotland or Wales.

At Glasgow 2014, Northern Ireland clinched fourth place in their group by beating hosts Scotland before finishing with an impressive victory over the Welsh in the seventh place play-off.

Nine of that successful squad from four years ago have made it to Australia, with Tyrone ladies gaelic captain Neamh Woods one of the three fresh faces, so coach Elaine Rice has an experienced panel of 12 at her disposal led by captain O'Hanlon, Northern Ireland's most capped player of all time.



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