BESSBROOK sportswoman Caroline O'Hanlon's Manchester Thunder have clinched a home semi-final in netball's British SuperLeague with a hard-fought away win over 2015 champions Surrey Storm.
Saturday evening's 60-55 victory in the final round of regular league games was enough for Thunder to hold onto second place on scoring difference from Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning.
Thunder initially looked in trouble, trailing by seven goals in the first quarter, but battled back to take the lead by half-time and held on for a crucial result.
The Northern Ireland captain's team will now host Bath this Saturday (7pm) after table-topping champions Wasps Netball play Lightning at the Ricoh Arena with both semis being televised live on Sky Sports.
After an amazing March which culminated in them completing a league double over Wasps with a 50-49 victory in an epic encounter to go three points clear at the top and O'Hanlon named SuperLeague Player of the Month, Thunder went off the boil badly.
Convincing victories over the struggling Scottish and Welsh franchises, Sirens and Celtic Dragons respectively, were followed by a run of three defeats in four matches to put their top four finish in doubt.
The rot began when Thunder slipped to a shock 47-50 home loss against Severn Stars and a subsequent 71-42 win over basement side London Pulse wasn't enough to stop Wasps taking back top place on goal difference.
Narrow defeats followed against two of the other teams fighting for play-off places, a 60-57 loss against Lightning and then on a 53-56 scoreline at home to Bath, leaving the three franchises level on points going into the final round of fixtures with Saracens Mavericks a further three behind.
It was an understandably nervous and far from perfect performance from Thunder against Storm, but having home comforts for the semi will be a big boost.
"We've made our passage to the play-offs difficult for ourselves in the past few weeks but it's job done now, we've got the home semi-final we wanted and it's time to focus on knockout netball," says O'Hanlon.
"Everyone's looking forward to getting down to business this week, preparing for this huge showdown with Bath. It's a big game and it's great to know we'll have our brilliant supporters behind us.
"I understand more than half the tickets had been sold within a couple of hours of our match against Storm finishing which just shows how passionate our fans are and now we want to reward their loyalty.
"We lost our last regular league game at home to Bath so hopefully we can make amends and go one better than last season by reaching the final. I came to Thunder to play in big games like this and everyone's really looking forward to it."
There should be an absorbing battle in mid-court between O'Hanlon and one of the world's best centres, Serena Guthrie, who has been captaining England lately, was a driving force in their Commonwealth Games gold medal win last April and is closing in on 100 international caps.
Guthrie, captain Eboni Usoro-Brown and their two Australians are among four Bath players who have played for full-time professional franchises Down Under and they have five other English and Welsh internationals.
Thunder have their own mix of experienced SuperLeague players, emerging England prospects and their three overseas stars, O'Hanlon, Kiwi wing attack Liana Leota and shooter Joyce Mvula from Malawi.