Caroline O’Hanlon sure Ireland will shine

Caroline O'Hanlon
Caroline O'Hanlon

Caroline O’Hanlon hopes that British SuperLeague success can help Northern Ireland hit the heights on their current tour to the West Indies.

The girls in green will be up against it when they face two of the world’s top 10 netballing nations, Trinidad and Barbados, in their own Caribbean over the next few days.

But O’Hanlon and her colleagues have travelled in a positive frame of mind after an impressive first few outings for Team Northumbria in the world’s second best domestic competition.

Six of Kate Carpenter’s players have helped transform Northumbria’s fortunes from struggling last season to going joint top of the table last weekend with their third win on the trot.

“Being involved in these tough competitive matches every week should help us at international level and means we can approach this triangular tournament with increased confidence,” says O’Hanlon.

“The Caribbean is a real hotbed of netball with three of their countries in the world’s top 12 so it’s an exciting challenge to be facing these sides as part of our build-up to the Commonwealth Games.

“Trinidad beat us up physically at the last World Cup in Singapore but we were drained in every way from the huge effort expended the night before against South Africa when we came close to securing a place in the top six.

“We played Barbados last November in the International Festival final and although we played pretty well in defeat everyone came off that court wanting another crack at them as soon as possible.”

Northern Ireland vice-captain Hannah Willis, who opted out of SuperLeague, is set to join the six Northumbria regulars in a formidable starting seven for this triangular tournament.

The Larne Grammar PE teacher will slot into her familiar role at wing attack between O’Hanlon and the in-form forward duo of Oonagh McCullough and Noleen Lennon.

Lennon and O’Hanlon, who have both played every minute of Northumbria’s first four games, had their first taste of Caribbean netball fever at the 2003 World Cup in Jamaica.

Northern Ireland netball has come a long way in the intervening years with far greater opportunities for the emerging generation led by Fionnuala Toner and Niamh Cooper.

The experience of playing in front of big crowds in SuperLeague should make these Trinidad tests less daunting for the young defensive duo who will have captain Gemma Gibney behind them at goalkeeper.

Gibney missed last November’s International Festival following knee surgery but has proved her return to full fitness with Team Northumbria in recent weeks.