Former All Ireland ladies gaelic footballer of the year and current Northern Ireland netball captain Caroline O’Hanlon is the youngest of the 11 inaugural inductees to Queen’s University’s new sporting Hall of Fame.
The multi-talented 38-year-old GP from Bessbrook, who graduated in Medicine from Queen’s in 2009, is the only current competitor among the group of distinguished sportspeople honoured at last Thursday evening’s annual Blues Awards.
By a nice coincidence, the star-studded list which covers seven decades is book-ended by medical doctors as the first Hall of Fame inductee in chronological order is Jack Kyle, the Irish rugby great who later spent many years working as a surgeon in Africa.
Three-time All Ireland winner with Down, Sean O’Neill, now aged 85, is the only other gaelic games figure honoured, while O’Hanlon is the sole county Armagh representative on a list which includes five females.
Now in her 22nd Orchard campaign, O’Hanlon already had a couple of seasons of inter-county football under her belt when she started studying at Queen’s in the autumn of 2003 after returning from her first Netball World Cup in Jamaica that summer.
She has subsequently played in two more World Cups, captaining the girls in green at Liverpool 2019, and competed in three Commonwealth Games including having the honour of being official flag-bearer for Team NI at the Gold Coast 2018 opening ceremony.
An integral part of both squads for more than two decades, O’Hanlon is the most capped Northern Ireland netballer of all time and has also made more appearances for the Armagh ladies gaelic county team than any other player in Orchard history.
The world-class centre has twice won European Championship silver medals with Northern Ireland and netted two British SuperLeague titles with Manchester Thunder, one of four franchises for which she has shone in the northern hemisphere’s flagship competition.
Player of the Tournament when NI won their first international trophy, the 2009 Nations Cup in the Far East, O’Hanlon has captained her country since 2016 and lifted the silverware when the Warriors beat Barbados in the following summer’s Quad Series final.
Captain of Lisburn-based Larkfield for the past decade and a half, O’Hanlon has led them to seven NI Premier League titles and the same number of Senior Cup successes since the club’s breakthrough domestic double back in 2010.
That was a landmark year in which O’Hanlon won Player of the Tournament at netball’s European Championships and was crowned NI Sportswoman of the Year, one of many awards bestowed upon the dual star during her exceptional career.
A three-time All Star who has been shortlisted 11 times in total, O’Hanlon won the prestigious All Ireland Player of the Year award in 2014 when she captained Armagh to a famous Ulster title triumph just before competing at her first Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Up until last month’s defeat by Donegal, O’Hanlon had been on the field for every minute of the nine Ulster Senior Championship finals in Armagh history, picking up six winners medals along the way, and she captained them to NFL Division Three and Two titles.
A key member of the Ireland team which hammered Australia in the historic, one-off International Rules series in 2006, O’Hanlon has won multiple interpro titles in ladies gaelic with Ulster, including as captain, and been honoured as Player of the Tournament.
At club level, the timeless midfield maestro captained her beloved Carrickcruppen to Armagh Junior, Intermediate and three Senior Championship successes and has appeared in no fewer than 13 county finals.
O’Hanlon won All Ireland Junior and Intermediate Championship medals with Armagh in 2005 and 2012 respectively, and captained the Orchard county to back-to-back Senior semi-final appearances last decade.
Although best known for her remarkable exploits in ladies gaelic and netball, O’Hanlon also won Blues in basketball and soccer as a QUB undergraduate, and even turned down a call-up to the Northern Ireland women’s football squad many years ago!
The IRFU tried to head-hunt O’Hanlon for their new professional sevens programme after rugby’s abbreviated version was included in the Rio Olympics and she has had offers to play Down Under in the AFLW and also Suncorp Super Netball.
Now with Leeds Rhinos, O’Hanlon started her SuperLeague career with two years at Team Northumbria and also lined out for Strathclyde Sirens before a successful five-season spell at Manchester Thunder, whose supporters voted her their greatest ever centre.
O’Hanlon has won a SuperLeague Player of the Month award and has representing the SuperLeague All Stars team, while she has featured in eight Team of the National League selections in ladies gaelic.
When graduating in 2009, O’Hanlon received a Special Contribution to Sport Award, and she briefly returned to the university for further studies as one of the first intake to the new Elite Athlete Programme a decade ago.
The Hall of Fame will span the seven decades since the establishment of the QUB Blues back in the 1950s, with Dr Kyle honoured posthumously and the achievements of other heroes from way back being recognised.
Now 87, Thelma Hopkins broke the world high-jump record in 1956, going on to win a silver medal for Great Britain at that year’s Olympics, having already struck Commonwealth Games gold, and she also won 40 caps for Ireland in hockey.
Billy McConnell, who won bronze as a member of the GB hockey team at the 1984 Olympics, is recognised as is Lions rugby winger turned peace campaigner Trevor Ringland, who won two Triple Crowns with Ireland.
Judo’s Lisa Bradley and another high-jumper Janet Boyle have both won Commonwealth Games medals while Richard Archibald, now Director of Sport at Sport NI, has World Championship silver and bronze medals to his name as an Irish rower.
Banbridge native Madeline Perry reached a world ranking of No 3 in squash along with winning the Irish national title 15 times, while mountaineer Dawson Stelfox became the first Irish person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1993.
Meanwhile, O’Hanlon is expected to feature for Leeds Rhinos in netball’s British Fast5 All Stars tournament which will be televised live from London’s Copper Box Arena by Sky Sports this Friday from 5.30pm.