O'Hanlon keen to focus on Armagh in her 23rd season

February 17, 2024

Caroline O'Hanlon

By Daire Walsh

She has already given remarkable service to her county and with three wins from three to their name in this year’s Lidl National Football League Division 1, Caroline O’Hanlon is delighted with her decision to return for a 23rd season in the colours of Armagh.

Three years after she first made her adult inter-county debut, O’Hanlon helped the Orchard County to claim the 2005 All-Ireland junior football championship crown — back when such a feat gained you promotion to the top-tier. She registered 0-2 from midfield the following year as Armagh lost out by a point to Cork in the TG4 All-Ireland senior football championship decider, before getting her hands on another national crown in 2012 after the Ulster side defeated Waterford in an intermediate showpiece at Croke Park.

In addition to a plethora of provincial titles, O’Hanlon has also won Division Two of the Lidl NFL on no fewer than three occasions — the most recent of those coming in April of last year. However, a combination of injuries and her commitments to Netball Superleague outfit Leeds Rhinos saw her dropping out of the panel ahead of the 2023 championship.

This raised some doubts over whether she’d feature again for Armagh, but an off-season chat with new manager Greg McGonigle, who previously managed the side in 2009, ultimately led to her returning to the fold and she played a starring role in their recent league triumphs over Waterford and Cork.

“I obviously go way back with Greg, he was my first coach when I went to college. That’s going back a few years, to say the least! He chatted to me when he came on board and I’ve a lot of trust in how he approaches teams. He has a similar outlook on how the team should be playing. That was a big factor in coming on board,” O’Hanlon acknowledged.

“I’m really happy with how that has gone. He’s got a really good balance in the backroom team, it’s a really nice dynamic and the girls seem to be responding really well. I feel like it has been really refreshing. I’m delighted with the decision at this stage.

“Greg has been around. He’s been with Armagh before, he’s been with Ulster for years. He’s an ambitious guy and obviously Armagh, we’re looking to make another step and push on from where we’ve been for the last few years.”

Following a rest period for the top two divisions of the NFL last weekend, Armagh will be back in action tomorrow afternoon against Meath at the Donaghmore/Ashbourne GAA club (throw-in 2pm). Like the Orchard women and defending champions Kerry, the Royals also have a 100% record from their opening three games of Division 1 and are currently being guided by a man who is familiar to O’Hanlon and her inter-county colleagues.

After bringing a three-year spell with Armagh, two as a selector and one as a manager, to an end in the wake of their quarter-final exit in last year’s TG4 All-Ireland senior football championship, former Kildare goalkeeper Shane McCormack assumed the Meath hotseat for the 2024 season. This adds considerable intrigue to tomorrow’s fourth round encounter, but O’Hanlon is trying not to pay too much attention to the opposition at this point in the campaign.

“Meath seem to be going really well. Obviously we know that they’ve got a lot of quality, that speaks for itself. They’ll be a tough opponent. Delighted to see Shane doing well, but I think from our perspective, we’re not really focusing too much on Meath. We’re still trying to build ourselves.

“Adapt into the new style that the guys want us to be playing. We’re still very much focused on what we’re about. We’ll just prepare for each game and look forward to it. You want to see where you’re at against the best teams in the country and that’s what playing in Division One is about.”

Tomorrow’s clash in Ashbourne isn’t the only item on O’Hanlon’s agenda this weekend, however, as there is the small matter of Leeds Rhinos’ Superleague opener against Severn Stars at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham this morning at 11am.

Since she first signed up to this competition with Team Northumbria in 2014, O’Hanlon has found herself having to strike a balance between her two sporting passions.

She normally trains with Rhinos in England on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, before returning to train with Armagh on Thursdays. Despite being under contract across the water at the Yorkshire-based club, she also works as a GP for a number of days when she is on home soil.

Her ability to line out for either or both teams on a weekend depends on how the sports are scheduled and while there aren’t likely to be any conflicts for O’Hanlon in the springtime, it can still be quite taxing to play netball and ladies football within the same weekend.

“It’s not new to me, but obviously it doesn’t get easier as time goes on! It’s about managing it and I’ve trained to do that. Hopefully we’ll be able to perform at both. Greg and the team are very good at looking after you and we’ve a good backroom team as well, making sure that you’re in good condition. We’ll just listen to them and hopefully be able to impact both.”

It has certainly been quite a journey for O’Hanlon since she first started playing top level netball in the UK with the high points undoubtedly being the Superleague titles she garnered with Manchester Thunder in 2019 and 2022.

She has also represented Scottish side UWS Sirens and although she didn’t feature in the 2016 season, the Queen’s University Belfast graduate, who was named TG4 Intermediate Players’ Player of the Year and Senior Players’ Player of the Year in 2012 and 2014 respectively, has been a largely ubiquitous presence in the Netball Superleague over the past decade.

“When I was younger, it wasn’t something that was even on my horizon. I obviously would have played within Northern Ireland. Clubs and international. Whenever the opportunity came, it was a no-brainer to play at that level week in, week out. The quality and the intensity of the Superleague has grown every season. I’m delighted to still be able to feature in that,” O’Hanlon added.


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