Thursday 8 December 2016

Is this the busiest woman in Irish sport? - Armagh dual star and flying doctor Caroline O'Hanlon

Published 15/07/2015 | 19:02

Caroline O'Hanlon (Armagh ladies football star), second right, with Northern Ireland netball team mates and Usain Bolt at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
Caroline O'Hanlon (Armagh ladies football star), second right, with Northern Ireland netball team mates and Usain Bolt at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

THERE'S a lot of talk about 'burnout' in GAA circles these days but few players, if any, have had as tough or successful a dual schedule as Caroline O'Hanlon in recent seasons.

  • Go To

Last summer she starred for Northern Ireland's netball team at the Commonwealth Games just days after captaining Armagh to sensationally oust Monaghan and win their first Ulster TG4 ladies' football title in seven years.

By year's end she had won her third All-star and was crowned 'Ladies Gaelic Footballer of the Year,' the first non-Cork player to win it.

Between two sports and playing for club, college, county, province and country O'Hanlon lined out for eight teams last year.

Not only does she play a pivotal position (midfield and centre) in both codes, but she captained many of those teams and lifted five trophies on top of her individual honours.

Yet she reckons one weekend earlier this year stretched her legendary endurance and capacity for bi-location much closer to breaking point.

Back in February Northern Ireland hosted Scotland in two home internationals on consecutive mornings.

Unfortunately Armagh had a Division Two NFL game rescheduled for the same weekend so after the second netball match she had to drive 100 miles to Donegal for the football match and, the following morning, promptly flew to Newcastle for a netball Superleague game.

That's four games of elite sport in three days in two different countries.

Throw in the fact that O'Hanlon (30) is a medical doctor and worked a full shift in Belfast's Craigavon hospital immediately before and afterwards and you will understand why she is regarded as something of a sporting Superwoman in women's gaelic circles.

Playing in the 2014 Commonwealths necessitated so much extra travelling and training for netball that she took a year's leave from medicine.

To increase her match-play experience she joined British Superleague side Team Northumbria which meant travelling over for training and matches while still fulfilling all her training and playing commitments with Armagh.

Yet still O'Hanlon, who admits she finds it "hard to sit and do nothing" still pushed the envelope, using the year to study for a Masters in clinical anatomy in Queens University.

Two days after Armagh shocked Monaghan in the Ulster final she was headed to Glasgow for the Commonwealths.

Northern Ireland's netballers surpassed expectations, improving their rankings by five places to finish seventh and she got to experience first-hand the thrill of life as a full-time athlete, playing before sellout crowds and rubbing shoulders with superstars like Usain Bolt and Bradley Wiggins while living in the 'athlete's village.'

Within days of the closing ceremony she was back at GAA training with Carrickcruppen and Armagh who went on to beat Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-finals before succumbing to All-Ireland champions Cork in the last four.

With the Orchard county winning a second consecutive league title since she has decided that her frantic schedule cannot continue next year.

"The Superleague season is exactly the same as gaelic's national league. That meant doubling up with two matches most weekends from February to late April but we're going to be playing Division One football next year so that just won't be feasible and I won't play Superleague," she explains.

If O'Hanlon can juggle two sports at the elite level it remains puzzling why the camogie and ladies football organisations cannot avoid the sort of clashes that saw players from Cork and Clare having to dash from one discipline to the other last weekend.

"It shouldn't happen, it belittles both sports," O'Hanlon says. "There needs to be some sort of agreement made before the start of the season to avoid it. It is just not fair on the players and you are putting them at risk physically."

By O'Hanlon's exhausting standards this summer has actually offered a little brief respite.

A switch of career paths means she is currently enjoying a month's break from work before starting her GP training in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry in early August, not far from her family home in Bessbrook.

Monaghan recently avenged last year's defeat by knocking Armagh out of the Ulster championship so the Orchard women next face a preliminary qualifier against Laois on July 25.

Yet O'Hanlon remains adamant that any team can win the TG4 All-Ireland senior title through the backdoor, despite Cork's phenomenal dominance of the women's game.

"They have been very worthy champions, have fantastic athletes and skill but I don't believe Cork are unbeatable," she stresses.

"A lot of teams have got closer to them in the last few years, it's just psychologically where they are particularly strong but that's the challenge for everyone else, to step up and match them."

She was on the Armagh team who were only pipped by the Rebelettes in the 2006 All-Ireland final and recalls "we had a player sent off which proved pivotal. They got a goal from the ensuing free and we let that sending off completely distract us."

The Orchard have been bolstered recently by the emergence of young talents like Amy Macken, Aoife McCoy, Lauren McConville (Jim's daughter) and Louise Kenny but have also been hit by a litany of bad injuries and currently have four players recovering from cruciate surgery.

Leading them by example and showing absolutely no signs of waning yet is one of busiest and fittest women in Irish sport.

"An athlete's longevity is very variable," O'Hanlon says. "It really depends on your style of play and how injury-free you've been but thankfully I've never had any serious injuries. Work is demanding obviously but I just take it a year at a time and see how it goes,".

*** For more profiles of the women battling to get to Croke Park in September see www.wgpa.ie and follow their #behindtheplayer campaign.

Online Editors

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport