Why Ryan and O'Hanlon can be Northern Ireland's Netball World Cup dream team
Northern Ireland head coach Dan Ryan and captain Caroline O'Hanlon were singing each other's praises last night as the Warriors squad flew out of Belfast for the Netball World Cup in Liverpool.
Ryan's team will play Barbados in Manchester this afternoon in the first of four warm-up matches in four days ahead of the tournament, which begins next Friday.
When the Australian was appointed last autumn, he unsurprisingly retained world-class centre O'Hanlon in the skipper's role she had held under Elaine Rice.
Considering the 34-year-old's great experience and track record as her country's most successful captain, the decision seemed a no-brainer, but since then Ryan has come to fully appreciate O'Hanlon's qualities.
"Caroline is one of the most professional athletes I've ever had the privilege to work with and her achievements in netball speak for themselves, never mind doubling up as one of Ireland's leading Gaelic footballers," said Ryan.
The pair have worked closely together over the past six months in helping Manchester Thunder, where Ryan was assistant coach and O'Hanlon one of three overseas stars, net the British SuperLeague title.
"That has been beneficial as we've got to know each other really well and there's great mutual respect. Caroline is a good communicator who is very open and honest," added Ryan.
"She's been a positive instigator in embracing the changes and new ideas we're trying to implement and, at 34, she's still so hungry to push herself and develop as a player.
"I believe that the coach-captain relationship is vital in any set-up and Caroline is a wonderful leader of the playing group who everyone looks up to, yet she has humility and an unassuming manner.
"This is an absolutely outstanding individual, a genuine one-off, and what she has done over a prolonged period is truly mind-blowing," enthused Ryan, who has been used to working with full-time professional netballers in Australia.
By contrast, O'Hanlon juggles her netball commitments with Northern Ireland, Manchester Thunder and Larkfield with Gaelic football for Armagh, Carrickcruppen and Ulster, while working part-time as a doctor.
For her part, the Warriors skipper, who was Team NI's flag-bearer at last year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, is quick to offer reciprocal praise of Ryan, Northern Ireland's first male coach.
"Dan's still a young man but he brings so much experience in professional netball, having held head coach roles in the main northern and southern hemisphere competitions," she said.
"I've enjoyed working with him at Thunder in a very successful season and he's really respected there from his previous spell as head coach.
"He has also brought great enthusiasm to the Northern Ireland job even though our set-up is very different to what he has been used to, especially in Australia.
"He has come from the world's leading netball nation and a sophisticated high-performance environment but recognises how we have fought against the odds and punched above our weight while juggling netball with other commitments.
"Dan has blended in very well and actually understands our humour, really respects our culture and treats people well. He's been over here full-time for the past few weeks and enjoyed getting out and seeing more of the country.
"He is an excellent technical coach and has plenty of fresh ideas. We're trying to adopt and implement those, and there's still plenty to do, but having eight full days together coming into the World Cup will help.
"We're happy with our progress so far and Dan's doing a great job building upon the firm foundations which were established by Elaine Rice.
"We will always be indebted to Elaine, without whose efforts Northern Ireland netball wouldn't be on the world stage, and now we're lucky to have Dan on board bringing something new," enthused O'Hanlon.
Netball NI are quietly confident of retaining Ryan's services beyond the World Cup, with the European Championships coming up in Antrim at the end of September. The Aussie staying could also help persuade O'Hanlon to extend her record-breaking international career, which began as a schoolgirl in 2002.