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'I love what I do' - Armagh's long-serving dual star doctor excelling both sides of the Irish Sea

Caroline O’Hanlon has an international netball clash in Glasgow on Friday, before Saturday’s Ulster final against Donegal.

Armagh star and Northern Ireland netball international, Caroline O'Hanlon, launching Girls Play Too 2: Inspiring Stories Of Irish Sportswomen’.
Armagh star and Northern Ireland netball international, Caroline O'Hanlon, launching Girls Play Too 2: Inspiring Stories Of Irish Sportswomen’.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Updated Aug 18th 2021, 8:37 AM

ON FRIDAY, ARMAGH superstar Caroline O’Hanlon will be in Glasgow for an international netball friendly against Scotland.

On Saturday, the stage is Healy Park, Omagh, for the Ulster senior football final against Donegal.

The latter will bring the curtain down on her 21st season of inter-county football, the former continues Northern Ireland’s build-up towards qualification for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

As if the flying dual star wasn’t impressive enough, throw in the fact that she’s a GP working on the frontline through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 37-year-old’s phenomenal exploits and balancing act has been well documented through the years. She takes it all in her stride, and has always said that everyone has the same amount of time in their week and that she does it all for the love of it.

A special athlete and a hugely impressive person, that remains the case.

“You make decisions,” O’Hanlon says. “It’s not easy, but I love what I do and I get a lot back from what I do. That makes the decisions easier. If I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s as simple as that.

“I think I’m in a very privileged position to have the opportunities that I’ve had and I would probably regret if I turned some of them down rather than putting in a bit of effort to do them.”

A bit of effort, she says. 21 years worth of it – hard work and dedication; blood, sweat and tears – at inter-county level.

The supports in place nowadays have made a huge difference; specialist coaching, psychology and the likes “at your fingertips,” rather than making it up as she went and asking men’s players for advice many moons ago.

Her love for it is clear as day, but is it all getting harder or easier?

“It’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? I just take it a year at a time, don’t dwell too much, I suppose, each year, you reflect and see do you still have the energy, do you still have the motivation, do you see potential in the group? And take it from there, I suppose.

“The last year-and-a-half, it wasn’t a very difficult decision, because there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. But I suppose we’ll have to reflect for next year.”

caroline-ohanlon On the ball for Armagh. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Not a whole lot else to do, just work through the small matter of a global pandemic as a doctor, while commuting over and back to Manchester to play Super League Netball.

That runs in the earlier part of the year, with football mainly taking over for most of the summer. The Orchard’s All-Ireland championship bid came to an end at the quarter-final stage this season, senior newcomers and now-finalists Meath sending them to the exit door.

She notes that “people were underestimating Meath more than we were,” under no illusion that their clash against the 2020 intermediate champions would be a tough one.

“Their performance wasn’t a shock, probably our performance was a bit of a shock in so much as we made too many errors. Their work rate on the day, their organisation and their discipline was better than ours on the day. That’s disappointing.”

O’Hanlon missed outdue to a facial injury so the disappointment was a double-whammy, though she’s “feeling good” again and taking it each training session at a time.

The height of her involvement in both Glasgow and Omagh this weekend remains to be seen, leaving the calls in her coaches’ hands as she does her utmost to put her own up for selection.

One to miss very little action – even with her beloved Gaelic club Carrickcruppen – it’s likely killing her that there’s a clash on Saturday and she won’t be there for the other netball friendly against Wales.

Her frustration certainly shines through when speaking about the lack of crossover of inter-county players to their club teams this year, and the fact that she has only played one game for ‘Cruppen as a result. But that’s a story for another day.

What about work? “It’s just getting busier and busier, to be honest,” concedes O’Hanlon, who practices in Newry. Concerned about Covid outbreaks and peaks among younger and unvaccinated people, she warns that hospitals and A&E departments are overwhelmed in the North once again.

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netball-world-cup-2019-day-five-ms-bank-arena In action at the Netball World Cup 2019. Source: Nigel French

On a day-to-day basis, she’s seeing the effects of long Covid and how debilitating it is, and passionately pleads with people to keep their guard up.

“We’re not seeing old people in hospital. It’s young people. I think people are holding back from getting the vaccine, saying, ‘Ah, why am I getting a vaccine to protect someone else?’ The reality is they’re not. They are at risk. And I don’t think that’s being stressed enough.”

Returning to sport as the interview winds down, O’Hanlon’s entire focus is on another hectic weekend. First across the water, and then on these shores for the Ulster final.

With the northern province the only one to push on with a championship for the second year running through the new normal, O’Hanlon is expecting a stiff test against familiar foes.

“Look, they’re a top side, a Division 1 team, they’re highly competitive,” she concludes.

“They’ve been in quarter-finals, semi-finals consistently over the past five or six years. We know that they have top-quality players, particularly in their attack. Both sides know each other very well.

“We didn’t play them last year so they’ll have a point to prove as well. Equally, we won the Ulster championship and they didn’t take part so we have a point to prove. There’ll not be much in it.

“I think both teams match up pretty evenly, and it’ll be similar to the Meath match — whoever gets the basics right and works harder on the day will get over the line.”

***

Lidl celebrates the launch of ‘Girls Play Too 2: Inspiring Stories Of Irish Sportswomen’. The second edition of the book contains stories about Ireland’s most accomplished sportswomen and is available exclusively in all Lidl stores from Monday 16th August to Monday 6th of September.

On hand for the launch was Northern Ireland Netball International and Armagh Ladies Footballer Caroline O’Hanlon who features in the latest version of the book.

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Emma Duffy

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