Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland captain Caroline O'Hanlon nets top SuperLeague award in season to remember

 

Class act: Caroline O'Hanlon is in top form
Class act: Caroline O'Hanlon is in top form

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland captain Caroline O'Hanlon has bagged the Vitality SuperLeague Player of the Month award for March.

The world-class centre was consistently superb as her Manchester Thunder team stormed to the top of the table with a run of impressive victories.

An away win over title contenders Saracens Mavericks took Thunder into first place on scoring difference before they edged an epic encounter with champions Wasps Netball 50-49 to go three points clear at the top.

O'Hanlon picked up Player of the Match in two of Thunder's first three games of the current campaign but winning this monthly award is an outstanding achievement.

Current English internationals and a range of overseas stars from the world's leading netball nations who play in the 10-team British SuperLeague are full-time professionals.

By contrast, O'Hanlon continues to juggle her successful SuperLeague career with working part-time as a doctor and playing inter-county gaelic football for Armagh.

Additionally she is the only player on the Thunder roster not actually based in Manchester, meaning continual commuting and not training midweek with her team.

In spite of that, she is thriving in the pivotal position of centre for a winning Thunder team and combining brilliantly with Kiwi wing attack Liana Leota and star shooter Joyce Mvula from Malawi.

Praising O'Hanlon's dynamism, the Player of the Month adjudicators described her as a key figure in Thunder's rise to the top of the table in March.

"She has delivered consistent performances and been a machine in the middle with her range of passing, experience, energy and passion helping her team-mates to flourish and show formidable form," their statement said.

Thunder head coach Karen Greig also paid tribute to the relentless 34-year-old's influence for the franchise she joined ahead of last season after previous spells with Team Northumbria and Scottish Sirens.

"We'd a very busy March with four games in 13 days at one stage and Caroline really stood up for us in the middle of the court," said Greig.

"She produced outstanding back-to-back performances and really deserves this award," added Greig, whose assistant is Australian Dan Ryan, the Northern Ireland head coach.

O'Hanlon and Northern Ireland vice-captain Fionnuala Toner will be on opposing sides today when Manchester Thunder and London Pulse clash live on Sky Sports (4pm).

New franchise Pulse are propping up the table but Michelle Drayne's Mavericks, currently fifth, are still in contention to join O'Hanlon's Thunder in the play-offs.

With four rounds of fixtures remaining, O'Hanlon is keen for Thunder to keep pushing on and has attributed her personal accolade to playing in a successful side.

"I'm surprised and honoured to receive this award but me being acknowledged like this reflects how well the team are doing," said O'Hanlon.

"I'm surrounded by great players at Manchester Thunder and enjoying being part of this ambitious group.

"We'll keep working hard for each other and improving."

Meanwhile, NI head coach Ryan is relishing the prospect of the upcoming World Cup in Liverpool.

Northern Ireland, currently ranked eighth, will head into the 16-team tournament with "realistic expectations" according to the Australian.

Northern Ireland play defending champions and world number one team Australia in their opening fixture on July 12.

"I am Northern Ireland through the World Cup and beyond now," the former Australia men's netball captain said.

"My message to my group is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

"The biggest thing I want to see is that they are fearless as soon as they step over that white line.

"World netball has never been as strong as it is now," Ryan added. "The sport is at the peak of its powers."

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