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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 16 February, 2019
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From chasing basketball dream in New York to stunning debut against All-Ireland champions in Clones

Former Ireland U20s basketball star Stephen O’Hanlon scored a goal against Dublin on his first appearance for Monaghan last Sunday.

WHEN STEPHEN O’HANLON jogged onto the Clones turf as a 43rd-minute substitute for his Monaghan debut last Sunday, an old basketball coach Joey Boylan sat up on his couch at home.

Conor McManus celebrates after the game with Stephen O'Hanlon Conor McManus celebrates after the game with Stephen O'Hanlon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I was actually watching it and when I saw Stephen coming on, it was a surprise,” admitted Boylan, who worked with O’Hanlon as coach with Ireland U18s and DCU Saints. “I didn’t actually realise he was on the senior panel.”

A huge cheer rolled down from the home crowd but all eyes were on the Farney’s star forward Conor McManus, who was entering the fray alongside the 21-year-old.

It took all of about 90 seconds for O’Hanlon to show the home crowd what he was all about. Wearing number 25, the youngster from Carrickmacross had an immediate impact.

Colin Walshe sent a searching ball towards McManus, but it was slightly overhit. From nowhere, O’Hanlon soared and fetched the ball as he was sandwiched in between McManus and Jonny Cooper.

What was most impressive was when he landed, he was already on the half-turn. Leaving Cooper stumbling behind him, O’Hanlon soloed twice on his right foot, turned onto his left and placed a placed a low strike past the onrushing goalkeeper Evan Comerford.

His first touch in a Monaghan jersey resulted in a goal against the All-Ireland champions, leaving a two-time All-Star trailing in his wake.

If his appearance on the field surprised Boylan, nothing about that goal did.

“His first step took him away from everyone anyway,” he says. “That would have been one his main attributes in basketball.

“He was a point guard. He was very quick. His first step was very quick and you saw that with his goal against Dublin where he took off as soon as he caught it. He was gone.

“He was never afraid to go in against the big boys when he was going to the basket. The 6’6″ and 6’7″ lads, he wasn’t afraid to go up against them.”

Six minutes after his introduction, O’Hanlon laid a goal on a plate for Shane Carey after a devastating run from McManus.

That six-minute spell made the country sit up and take notice. All of a sudden, Monaghan may have an accomplice for McManus in the full-forward line, joining a formidable attack alongside Conor McCarthy and Jack McCarron.

O’Hanlon’s debut was a long time coming. He scored 2-11 in last year’s U21 county final for Carrickmacross and linked up with the Monaghan squad soon after. Malachy O’Rourke extended the offer for the past couple of years, but O’Hanlon’s interests in basketball meant the advances were knocked back.

The game took him on a scholarship to prep school Trinity-Pawling School in New York state. He was an electric point guard with the varsity basketball team, he also did athletics, running in the 200m and with the 4x400m relay team.

He remained involved with the Irish underage set-up, flying home to represent his country from U16 to U20 level. Boylan was his coach during their U18s FIBA European Championships where Ireland finished in a respectable 17th place.

Joey Boylan DCU Saints coach Joey Boylan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“He came home to train with us at Christmas for a couple of sessions and then the actual championships were in the summer after he had finished. He was back with the Irish team in May, June and July.”

Their two key players were O’Hanlon and 6’8″ forward Jordan Blount, who is now averaging 10.1 points per game for NCAA Division 1 side UIC Flames.

“The two of them would have been the best two players on the team. They were kind of opposites.”

Boylan believes O’Hanlon’s height (5’11″) worked against him in the race to get noticed by some US colleges. “There would have been a chance (of him getting offers) but it’s very hard for an Irish point guard. It’s the bigger players that make it in the States.”

download Jordan Blount in action for Ireland.

Anyway, basketball’s loss became football’s gain.

After school, he came home and played with DCU Saints, where his brother Kevin was playing and Boylan was coach.

But O’Hanlon struggled with injury that year played in just six games of the Super League season.

“He only played few games,” explained Boylan. “It was his back, he was crippled with his it at the time.

“He played a game and then he was out, then he played a couple of others but he was never really fit.”

He started studying in Maynooth and eventually, football started to take hold.

“He was back into the football then. Stephen was down in Maynooth in college and travel-wise he was going back to Monaghan to play football so he couldn’t play basketball at all last year.”

His spectacular debut last weekend means O’Hanlon is no longer an unknown quantity, but Boylan is confident he has the temperment to handle whatever comes his way.

“He’s a very nice kid, a very nice kid. Very good personality. There’s humour and a bit of messing in him, you know?

“He’s always up for it and he could growl after a game if we lose, but then would start getting up again and start geeing the other guys up. He’s a good guy to have in the dressing room.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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