Busy bee O’Hanlon certainly never bored

CAROLINE O’Hanlon may just be the busiest Super League netballer there is in 2023.

Not only is she a midcourter for the Leeds Rhinos and the Northern Ireland national side, but also plays at the highest level of Gaelic football back in home county Armagh, and is a doctor by profession.

Being a doctor was not always something O’Hanlon wanted to do, but she does not regret becoming one now.

“Actually from a young age I wanted to be a vet” O’Hanlon said. But I suppose during school with different career days… I was put off by the fact that as a vet you have to be outside a lot, and with our climate that didn’t seem that appealing.

“So with my subjects I really enjoyed the sciences, and obviously I’ve gone down that sort of direction, and then chatting to people who were working in it, it just really appealed to me and I suppose I did have doubts, even through training and through university, but it’s one of those things for me – the more I’ve worked in it the more I’ve loved it and found it suits me.”

Though her career path has changed course, it’s been a lifelong love of Gaelic football for O’Hanlon in a sporting sense. With her parents heavily involved in her local club, it was only a matter of time before a young O’Hanlon would also pick up a ball.

“Gaelic is really about community, so you’re born in an area and then you play for your local club and you play with your friends, your neighbours and the people you grew up with,” she said.

“I played for a club called Carrickcruppen, which is based in south Armagh, for forever basically. Then I’ve also had the privilege of representing Armagh. I’ve been playing for Armagh for 20-plus years.

“Every opportunity you get to pull on the jersey is an honour and you’re representing your community, your family, and it just means so much. It’s more than just about sport.”

O’Hanlon took an extended break from football at the start of the Ladies Gaelic Football League (LGFA) season, which is currently underway, because of netball commitments, but is now starting to return to the setup at Armagh.

When it comes to managing all her commitments, O’Hanlon noted how she has always worked with understanding coaches and has had the conversations to kept everyone in the loop on her commitments and availability.

Although having such a busy life may be exhausting for some, O’Hanlon has always enjoyed having sport as an outlet from work and study, and says that the distraction and the need to be fully involved in the sport while playing has proven beneficial for her.

When it comes to netball, the skill and speed of the sport is what originally attracted O’Hanlon to the code, and like many players her netball journey started young.

“My netball journey started at my local primary school St Jospeh’s, and then I went on to my secondary school and mostly just in school until I was about 17,” she said. “I started playing for a club in Northern Ireland called Larkfield and sort of around that time I had already been in the Northern Ireland pathways and played through the Under 17s, Under 19s, up to senior.

“I didn’t start playing in the Super League until 2014 and that stage Kate Carpenter was the Northern Ireland coach and she set up this partnership between Netball Northern Ireland and Team Northumbria, and there were six or seven Northern Ireland players who signed for that franchise at that time.

“So we travelled over and back from Ireland to Newcastle to play with them and Kate was the coach of both, so that was the start of my journey in the Super League.

“I played with Northumbria for two seasons, and then had a break for a year and then played with Sirens. That was their first year, then I moved from there to Manchester Thunder and had five years (there), and now transferred to Leeds Rhinos. So I’ve been ’round the houses.”

O’Hanlon loved her time at Manchester, but after the Thunder had the absolute perfect season last year, she was looking for a new challenge and moved across to Leeds ahead of season 2023.

In a representative sense, he has been lucky enough to play at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland three times, and speaks glowingly of the memories and experiences she had at those tournaments.

“The Commonwealth Games are probably the pinnacle I think for netball, just to have that multisport event experience and thankfully I’ve had three opportunities to do that,” she said.

“The first one was in Glasgow in 2014, and it was all very new to us then so it was just a case of very excited about being in the athlete’s village and being amongst all the high profile athletes from other sports and getting a few photos with them, and really loved just being part of that environment and being part of the wider team NI group.

“It was a brilliant experience, and then in the Gold Coast I got the opportunity to be flag bearer for Team NI which was just probably one of the best experiences of my sporting career. I suppose I was just really honoured to be asked to lead the team out.

“There were phenomenal athletes in the Team NI group and so I was just delighted to be considered and to represent netball at the front of the group. Walking out into the full stadium was just an experience that will stay with me forever.

“More recently in Birmingham (it was) a totally difference experience, just with the COVID regulations, so different but equally brilliant. Birmingham were brilliant support and full houses for all the netball matches, and great support from home. That was lovely just to see that and feel that and be a part of that, but definitely probably the highlights of my netball career.”

In terms of ultimate career goals, O’Hanlon’s are pretty straightforward. Her netball goal is to win the Super League again this season, this time with Leeds, while she’s aiming to play in Division One of the Gaelic football league with Armagh and achieve the ultimate glory of winning the All-Ireland title with her beloved Orchard County.

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