August 11th, 2020


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Carrickcruppen captain Caroline O’Hanlon has credited Mickey Heaney with the mindset change which helped the Camlough club become county champions for the first time a decade ago and she hopes he can now work more magic after returning to Lowe’s Lane.

Playing her first game of this delayed domestic season, O’Hanlon was typically commanding as she led Cruppen to victory over outgoing league champions Armagh Harps at Abbey Park on Saturday evening.

The visitors won a hard-fought game 2-9 to 0-12 in awful weather, with triple All Star O’Hanlon back as club captain after a break of two years from a position she had held for a remarkable 13 consecutive seasons since the inception of Cruppen’s adult ladies side.

Previously she skippered Cruppen to Armagh Junior, Intermediate and three Senior Championship successes, with that unforgettable first county title in 2010 being won with Heaney at the helm and now the pair are plotting another triumph a decade on.

Louth native Heaney has been brought back to take charge of Carrickcruppen this season after an absence of eight years and this was his first win after an understrength team was well beaten at home by traditional rivals Clann Eireann in their opening game.

Although the return of O’Hanlon and former Armagh warhorse Sharon Reel was a big boost going into this second fixture, Cruppen came to town as underdogs with relatively few fancying their chances of fresh success this season.

Experienced campaigner Marian McGuinness, the long-standing Armagh regular who was O’Hanlon’s vice-captain for many years and won Player of the Match both times Cruppen beat Clann Eireann in an Athletic Grounds decider last decade, has been lost to Cavan club Lacken.

There have been doubts about whether two more club stalwarts, ex-county forwards Sinead Finnegan and Caoimhe Murray, would be back following a maternity break and a serious leg injury sustained in Australia respectively.

Neither of the pair lined out at Abbey Park at the weekend but O’Hanlon was her peerless self just a week short of her 36th birthday while her predecessor as skipper, Megan Cinnamond, scored a goal as did Shanon Sexton, who is back from Australia.

Armagh goalkeeper Anna Carr had a big game behind a defence featuring Reel and and experienced ex-county player Rebecca O’Reilly while Fermanagh forward Sarah McCausland has been a valuable addition since Cruppen’s most recent county title triumph in 2018.

Everybody battled hard for the cause and winning such a competitive match should stand to Heaney’s side when they tackle dangerous dark horses Dromahill in the Senior Championship quarter-final on Saturday week.

In spite of Cruppen’s impressive performance at Abbey Park, the fact Dromahill only lost by five points to Clann Eireann at the weekend will give credence to those who believe the new amalgamated team representing Dromintee and Forkhill could cause a quarter-final upset.

Dromahill, backboned by players like Aoife McCoy and Megan Sheridan, will arrive at Lowe’s Lane buoyed by a double-digit victory against Grange and that very respectable scoreline against the county champions, but hosts Cruppen look less vulnerable than some may have believed.

The return of Heaney may be a significant factor based on the extent to which O’Hanlon was strikingly singing his praises a few months ago on a Sport NI webinar when she and boxer Carl Frampton were the guests of host Oisin McConville.

O’Hanlon has worked under some of the world’s leading netball coaches and a range of formidable Armagh gaelic managers during a top level career spanning nearly two decades but she chose Heaney as her example while answering several questions.

Also reflecting just how much Carrickcruppen means to her in spite of playing both sports at the elite level, she chose that first county title triumph in 2010 as the standout moment of an incredibly decorated gaelic career which includes three Ulster Senior Championship medals, three All Star awards, playing in Croke Park and winning All Ireland Player of the Year.

“Winning the first Senior Championship with my club Carrickcruppen was special.  It had felt like we might never get there but Mickey Heaney came in as our new manager and he changed the mindset to how we could progress as a team rather than talking about winning and losing as such.

“Simply wanting to win, however badly, isn’t enough for success.  He changed our focus to ourselves, improving the things that we could control and highlighting positives and strengths that we had.

“We won that 2010 final when nobody gave us much chance and, after that, we went out each year believing we were capable of winning the county title.  It may only have happened three times in nine seasons since but, without that belief, you’ve very little hope.”

Asked about what type of coach gets the best out of her, O’Hanlon reflected that she has worked with a lot of different individuals and tried to learn what she could from each but again singled out Heaney for special praise.

“Mickey Heaney has been one of the best I’ve worked with.  He’s a very eccentric character, so refreshing.  As I said, his mindset was crucial to getting us success.  He simplified training, focused a lot on the basics and the execution of basics.

“His view was that you concentrate on getting the basics right and anything else can follow from that.  He also shifted the team’s mindset about our contingent of county players like myself.

“I suppose like a lot of club sides, a lot tended to go through our county players but he knew that you need a broader base to beat the top teams.  So he shifted us around, putting me to full forward for example.

“As someone the other team tended to focus on, having me up there rather than in my normal midfield role meant the opposition put more resources in defence so there was space for other players to carry ball for us.

“They benefited from having more opportunity than if everything had been going through me, actually thrived on the extra responsibility and his approach helped develop players which in turn made us a stronger team.

“In the short-term, it made us less predictable and gave the opposition more to think about, but it also made me learn to trust team-mates more rather than trying to do too much myself so there’s no doubt Mickey laid the foundation for us becoming consistent challengers through the past decade,” she reflected.