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'A phenomenal athlete' - Armagh's long-serving dual star set for another big weekend

Caroline O’Hanlon and Manchester Thunder are chasing another UK Netball SuperLeague title this weekend.

Updated Jun 3rd 2022, 12:00 PM

FROM AN ULSTER final one day to a UK Netball SuperLeague showdown the next.

Armagh great Caroline O’Hanlon helped Armagh to provincial glory in an extra-time humdinger in Clones last Sunday week, before making her impact felt with Manchester Thunder 24 hours later in London.

caroline-ohanlon Caroline O'Hanlon in action for Armagh (file pic). Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“She played a netball game yesterday after playing a full Ulster final,” her Orchard team-mate Aimee Mackin confirmed at the TG4 All-Ireland ladies football championship launch on the Tuesday.

“It’s not just any game, it was an Ulster final, so it was intense as it was, never mind extra-time.

A phenomenal athlete, fair play to her, she deserves every bit of credit she gets for what she does and the time she puts in to us, for Armagh, we appreciate it so much. And obviously with the netball, she’s as phenomenal at it as she is at Gaelic football.”

A whirlwind weekend like that is nothing new for 37-year-old O’Hanlon, who plays at the top level of both codes, excelling both sides of the Irish Sea. The high-flying dual star is also a doctor; a GP who worked on the frontline through the Covid-19 pandemic.

She’s synonymous with Armagh ladies football, remarkably in her 22nd season of a colourful inter-county career. In the recent Ulster final, she maintained her record of playing every minute of every provincial decider in Armagh’s history — nine, stretching back to 2006.

Having picked up her sixth Ulster medal, she’s still pulling the strings, just like Mackin remembers her doing in the ’06 All-Ireland final defeat to Cork. 

“We were at it,” her team-mate recalls. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted, but obviously Caroline was the main player them days. You had the likes of Aileen Matthews, they were in coaching you in schools and you just look up to them players.”

O’Hanlon was a role model for her then, a God of sorts.

Truth be told, she still is.

“You learn something new every day from Caroline. She has all the tricks of the trade. She’s experienced enough. She knows the ins and outs of the game and, ach listen, she’s someone there that you need, she can control a game. That’s what she can do.

“I don’t know how many seasons she’s been playing with Armagh, but I don’t think her level of performance has dipped. She’s very competitive, but we’re all very competitive, which is good. It makes training interesting.”

The same applies across the water.

While we’re more up to speed on O’Hanlon’s exploits on these shores, not just as many will be aware of the massive weekend that lies ahead for the Bessbrook native.

northern-irelands-caroline-ohanlon-gestures-during-the-netball-world-cup-match-at-the-ms-bank-arena-liverpool O'Hanlon in action at the 2019 Netball World Cup. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Thunder completed their regular season with a 71-63 home win against reigning champions Loughborough Lightning on Monday, rounding off their programme with 20 wins from 20 matches.

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O’Hanlon and Co. go up against Team Bath tonight in a home semi-final [6.30pm, live on Sky Sports], with the winners facing either Lightning or London Pulse in Sunday’s Grand Final at the Copper Box Arena, London [4.15pm].

Northern Ireland captain and world-class centre O’Hanlon has starred for the table-toppers so far this season, and is on the hunt for the second SuperLeague title of her career, having previously triumphed with Thunder in 2019.

She’s the North’s most-capped netball player of all-time, has been in the national squad for the past two decades and played a starring role at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

A fan favourite with each and every team she represents, O’Hanlon — who turns 38 at the start of August — will continue to balance both codes through the summer.

Armagh find themselves in a championship group with All-Ireland holders Meath and Monaghan. The only weekend she’s definitely available for football this month is that of 18/19 June, when the Orchard open their campaign at home to the Royals.

Otherwise, O’Hanlon’s focus will be on Northern Ireland’s Commonwealth Games warm-up matches at home to the England men’s team the second weekend of June, and away to Scotland on the last.

- Additional reporting from Richard Bullick.

BTL 5

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