Local Hero O’Hanlon listed among the stars

January 18, 2016

Richard Bullick

Armagh gaelic captain Caroline O’Hanlon’s latest year of outstanding sporting achievement on the football field and netball court has received recognition at regional level.

The current Newry and Mourne Sports Personality of the Year has been shortlisted for the prestigious Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards for the second year running.

Last January, triple ladies gaelic All Star and Northern Ireland netball legend O’Hanlon was runner-up to Ulster and Ireland rugby star Andrew Trimble in the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year category with Cliftonville goal king Joe Gormley also losing out.

Next Monday night at Belfast’s Ramada Hotel, the multi-talented doctor from Bessbrook will presumably be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Michael Conlan, Carl Frampton, Jonathan Rea, Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Rory Best, Tony McCoy, Rory McIlroy, Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth in the quest for one of the two main individual awards.

The 31-year-old isn’t expected to win but being shortlisted in such elite company is a great endorsement of the relentless O’Hanlon’s latest successful year.

At face value, O’Hanlon’s 2015 may slightly pale in comparison to the previous 12 months, during which she captained Armagh to their first Ulster title in seven seasons, shone in netball at the Commonwealth Games and won All Ireland Player of the Year in ladies gaelic.

But this time round she has again excelled at the highest level in both her sports and lifted five trophies as official captain of four of her six teams as well as occasionally leading Northern Ireland during games.

In ladies gaelic, O’Hanlon captained Ulster to their fourth successive interpro title and newly promoted Armagh to the NFL Division Two title as well as the All Ireland Senior Championship semi-finals for the second year running in what was her 14th inter-county season.

In her 11th consecutive season as Carrickcruppen captain, she led the club to their first ever domestic double of Armagh Senior Championship and Division One League titles, top-scoring and winning Player of the Match in the county final.    Unsurprisingly she won Carrickcruppen’s Player of the Year award.

She received her eighth All Star nomination and extended to seven seasons her record of being the only player in Ireland to make the Team of the League every year since the NFL Awards were introduced.

In netball, O’Hanlon was vice-captain of the Northern Ireland team which won bronze medals at the European Championships and then went on to lift the prestigious Nations Cup in Singapore just before Christmas.

Now Northern Ireland’s most capped player of all time, O’Hanlon was named Player of the Tournament as the girls in green won all six matches in a competition featuring teams from four continents.

Captaining Larkfield for an eighth consecutive season, O’Hanlon shone as her Lisburn-based club retained their NI Premier League title, losing only once in the entire campaign.  She was also a first choice starter for Team Northumbria throughout the Sky-televised British SuperLeague season.

In the new netball season, which started at the end of September, O’Hanlon has led Larkfield to very impressive victories over both their main rivals as the champions reached Christmas with a 100 percent record.

Although O’Hanlon has had to juggle her extensive sporting commitments with working full-time as a hospital doctor and more recently commencing training to be a GP, she has also fitted in coaching the Queen’s University’s international ladies side at the Asian Games in China and running competitively, including getting on the podium at a recent 10K.

In addition to her considerable off-field commitments and promotional activities relating to her various captaincies and being All Ireland Player of the Year, O’Hanlon also undertook duties as a Women’s Gaelic Players Association ambassador.

Additionally she headlined Armagh’s International Women’s Day event alongside Dame Mary Peters and launched the high-profile Runher Coastal Challenge in Holywood.

Having been shortlisted for Northern Ireland’s showcase sports awards last January, she subsequently was crowned the final Newry and Mourne Sports Personality of the Year in March.

It speaks volumes about how high the threshold for these awards is that another multi-talented Armagh sportswoman Aimee Mackin didn’t get shortlisted in either the George Best Breakthrough Award or Young Player of the Year categories.

Mackin had a fantastic first senior season for Armagh which saw her win an All Star after comfortably topping the Orchard scoring charts and netting twice in both the NFL Division Two and interpro finals for her county and Ulster respectively.

The teenager captained Armagh Minors to the All Ireland B final and her club Shane O’Neill’s to the Armagh Intermediate decider while in soccer she played for the Northern Ireland senior side, captained her country at Under 19 level and hit the last gasp goal which snatched Newry City Ladies their historic NIWFA Premier League title.

It is remarkable that a relatively small village like Camlough has produced two such outstanding sportswomen whose overlapping careers have converged in Armagh ladies gaelic.