Belfast Telegraph

O'Hanlon is keen to repay Thunder fans with a final

 

On mission: Caroline O'Hanlon
On mission: Caroline O'Hanlon

By Richard Bullick

Northern Ireland netball captain Caroline O'Hanlon's Manchester Thunder will have the benefit of home advantage this evening as they fight for a place in next Saturday's British SuperLeague final.

Thunder host Team Bath live on Sky Sports (7pm) aiming to avenge a recent home defeat by the same opponents and go one better than last year.

After previous stints with Team Northumbria and the Scottish Sirens, O'Hanlon reached the semi-finals for the first time 12 months ago after a successful first season with Thunder.

On that occasion, Karen Greig's team were beaten 59-50 at Loughborough Lightning after finishing third in the standings but this time will have a vociferous crowd behind them.

Thunder were three points clear at the top of the table after a magnificent March with O'Hanlon named SuperLeague Player of the Month for her superb performances in mid-court.

However, April proved very different with three defeats in four fixtures after initial victories over the Sirens and Welsh franchise Celtic Dragons.

A shock slip-up against Severn Stars sparked a run of three defeats from four matches, with a win against basement side London Pulse being followed by narrow losses to fellow semi-finalists Lightning and Bath.

Thunder's top-four finish was under threat when they fell seven goals behind in the opening period of their last regular league game away to 2015 champions Surrey Storm.

But their eventual 60-55 victory was enough to secure a runners-up place thanks to having a vastly superior points difference to Bath and Lightning, who also lost five times in 18 league games.

Champions Wasps Netball, who finished six points clear at the top, host Lightning in today's first semi-final at the Ricoh Arena (5pm).

"We've made our passage to the play-offs difficult for ourselves in the past few weeks but got the job done in the end," said O'Hanlon.

"Beating Storm got us the home semi we wanted and once the final whistle went last Saturday, our focus switched to knockout netball.

"Everyone's enjoyed getting down to business this week, preparing for this huge showdown with Bath. It's a big game and it's great to know we'll have our brilliant supporters behind us.

"More than half the tickets were sold within two hours of the Storm match finishing. We'll have a capacity crowd behind us and we want to reward their loyalty.

"Bath beat us at home a couple of weeks ago, so we want to make amends and in the process go one better than last season by reaching the final.

"I came to Thunder to play in big games like this and knowing that we're one win away from what would be my first SuperLeague final is massive motivation indeed."

There promises to be an absorbing battle between O'Hanlon and another world-class centre Serena Guthrie, recently England captain and a real star in their Commonwealth Games gold medal win last April.

Guthrie is one of four Bath players with experience in the southern hemisphere's full-time professional league, along with captain Eboni Usoro-Brown and two Australians.

But Thunder have their own strengths, including their slick attacking combination of O'Hanlon, Kiwi wing attack Liana Leota and star shooter Joyce Mvula from Malawi.

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