Belfast Telegraph

O'Hanlon and Thunder upset odds with miracle comeback

 

Great escape: Manchester Thunder’s Caroline O’Hanlon
Great escape: Manchester Thunder’s Caroline O’Hanlon

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland captain Caroline O'Hanlon's Manchester Thunder continued this month's theme of sporting great escapes with a miracle comeback to win netball's British SuperLeague final.

The first Irishwoman to appear in northern hemisphere netball's biggest game, O'Hanlon played the whole hour and was an influential figure in Thunder's 57-52 victory.

Thunder's hopes looked dead and buried when they trailed by six goals going into the last quarter against a powerful Wasps side at London's Copper Box.

At that stage the momentum was all with Wasps, who had gone into Saturday's showpiece as the firm favourites to complete a hat-trick of championships triumphs.

Although Thunder hit back bravely to close the gap to just a single goal, they then suffered a cruel blow when star shooter Joyce Mvula badly twisted her knee.

The famed Malawi goal machine couldn't continue but English international Ellie Cardwell proved a lethal supersub, converting each of her first 10 shots to fire Thunder to SuperLeague glory.

By the time Cardwell eventually missed in the final few seconds, Thunder were somehow home and dry having turned a wonderful final of fluctuating fortunes on its head.

Wasps had scored the first four goals of the evening in front of a capacity crowd of 7,500 and were seven up at one stage against Thunder, whose last title win was five years ago.

The reigning champions led 17-12 at the first break but by half-time Thunder had nudged ahead 29-27 with one O'Hanlon intercept proving a catalyst.

However Wasps began getting the upper hand again in the third quarter and their strong surge appeared to have taken the game almost out of Thunder's reach.

"It was a real roller coaster of a final and we were so far behind at the last break it would have been easy to think it was gone for us," admitted O'Hanlon.

"But there's great resilience in this team. We knew we had the attack to break them down and had real confidence in each other.

"Losing Joyce was a big blow but Ellie showed our squad depth with fantastic shooting and keeping Wasps to just seven goals in the last quarter was incredible defending from us.

"It was a special occasion with an amazing atmosphere and this is definitely a huge highlight of my sporting career," enthused O'Hanlon, who is also a star gaelic footballer.

This win was also sweet for Northern Ireland's Australian head coach Dan Ryan, who was Thunder supremo for their last final in 2016 and is now back as assistant to Karen Greig.

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