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Caroline O'Hanlon 'gutted' as Manchester Thunder's title defence is halted



Caroline O'Hanlon

Caroline O'Hanlon

Caroline O'Hanlon

Northern Ireland netball captain Caroline O'Hanlon has declared herself 'gutted' that Manchester Thunder won't have the opportunity to continue their British SuperLeague title defence.

This season's competition was officially cancelled yesterday due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ending O'Hanlon's hopes that a resumption might prove possible later in the year.

Champions Thunder had gone top of the table just before play was suspended in mid-March with a fourth win from four fixtures in the current campaign, away to Surrey Storm. That match featured two of the four Northern Ireland internationals currently involved in SuperLeague, O'Hanlon and fellow doctor Niamh Cooper, on opposing sides.

Northern Ireland vice-captain Fionnuala Toner's Team Bath and Michelle Drayne's London Pulse were the other two unbeaten sides at that stage, with three victories each.

Toner, Drayne and Cooper are all with new franchises this season, so the truncated campaign is a disappointment for them along with their Warriors skipper O'Hanlon.

Scrapping SuperLeague 2020 comes on the back of the cancellation of the European Championships, which were scheduled to take place in Glasgow in August.

"I'm gutted we won't have the opportunity to defend our title though obviously the welfare of players, staff, supporters and volunteers is paramount," said O'Hanlon.

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"Everybody behind the scenes exhausted all avenues to try and get us back on court but unfortunately it hasn't proved possible, which is disappointing for fans as well as players.

"There had been considerable debate around what a resumption might look like, in terms of format and logistics, but the Thunder girls were hoping for a positive outcome.

"Apart from our own ambitions, we felt it would be a bit of a nightmare for netball to have a big break from March until next February given how much momentum the sport has had.

"England's dramatic Commonwealth Games gold, last summer's World Cup in Liverpool and SuperLeague games being televised live on Sky Sports have all been big boosts."

Yesterday's announcement held out the possibility of a short-form tournament featuring the SuperLeague franchises being arranged this autumn if feasible by then.

O'Hanlon's current contract expires this summer and she turns 36 in August, but the Thunder faithful will hope to see the world-class centre back in the yellow and black dress once again.

"It might have proved difficult for myself, Fionnuala and Niamh travelling back and forth from Northern Ireland and not all players are full-time professionals like football," she said.

"There was so much uncertainty and it would have been tough training indefinitely without an end goal, but as a player you never like to give up hope," O'Hanlon concluded.

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