Caroline O’Hanlon – Northern Ireland’s cross-code superstar
She’s a three-time Gaelic football all-star, a doctor and the captain of Northern Ireland’s netball team, now Caroline O’Hanlon is ready to spearhead her country’s campaign at GC2018.
O’Hanlon has had to cut the GP work to part-time ahead of the Games, but the cross-code star has been successfully juggling busy sport commitments for most of her life.
The centre midfielder can’t remember when she started playing Gaelic Football, like most in the country, she was just born into it.
It wasn’t long before she realised she possessed talent in both Gaelic football – she’s been nominated for all-star status 11 times - and netball and that the skills were transferable.
She plays in the middle in both sports, controlling the most important position of the field and the Manchester Thunder centre has also helped her side to an unbeaten start to the UK Superleague season.
Organised chaos for most, business as usual for O’Hanlon.
“I’ve played both sports since I was a young child,” O’Hanlon told GC2018.com.
“I fly over to Manchester once or twice a week, depending on when games are on and if there is time between games to get in a training session. I also work three times a week as a GP. I play football twice a week. It has been pretty hectic, they’ve squeezed a lot of netball games into the start of the season.
“I was working full-time until September, but with the Commonwealth Games coming up, it was too hectic. Work were really good so I’ve gone down to three days a week.
The two sports complement each other, the training complements each other really well. I’m able to balance the two.
“There’s a lot more endurance-based fitness in Gaelic football, the pitch is much bigger, but I think the physicality of Gaelic helps netball at an international level. It has become a much more physical game. The speed and agility that netball requires is also something that helps football.”
O’Hanlon has been part of Northern Ireland’s netball team since 2002 and has seen the evolution of the women’s game firsthand.
There was a period when funding was cut and times were incredibly tough for the sport in Northern Ireland. In 2008 they were ranked as low as 21st in the world.
It’s a far cry from the professionalism and modern approach that now has the team ready to make a charge up the world rankings with a strong performance at the Commonwealth Games.
“I’ve experienced the very low periods over that time, so it makes you appreciate where we are at now,” she said.
“In the 2003 World Cup in Jamaica we finished 19th, and we didn’t qualify the 2007 or 2015 World Cups.
“The one before the last Commonwealth Games was really disappointing. We underperformed at the qualifiers and we missed out and that had a detrimental effect on the squad for a number of years because our financial backing was cut.
It was pretty difficult couple of years after the last Commonwealth Games, so to regroup and to get coach Elaine Rice on board and her team, who was hand-picked by herself, has been massive in turning the team around.
“The squad is getting stronger and stronger and we are looking forward to seeing how we match up against the top nations.”
Northern Ireland have climbed to eighth in the world rankings and have their sights on breaking into the top six.
They’ll get no better test than their clash with the World No.1 Australians on home soil in the opening game of the tournament.
“The opportunity to go to Australia where netball is such a big sport is brilliant,” she said.
“They are the leading light in netball, so all the matches will be great quality and we can’t wait to experience that.
The pinnacle of any netballer’s career is to play at an event like the Commonwealth Games, and we are playing our first game against the home team, so the atmosphere is going to be phenomenal.
“We’ve had quite a lot of competitive games in the last 12 months and that has really improved us as a team, and getting regular games is the only way we are going to close the gap on that top four. South Africa has broken in close to those teams as well.
“The standard of the game has raised across all countries and there has been a lot of movement even in the top 12 countries in the rankings in the last couple of months. Even just across the UK it has been really competitive. It is great for us to play those teams, because England, Scotland and Wales are in the other group, and we play them quite regularly.
“It is brilliant for us to play other sides of netball; we are relishing that opportunity.”
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