June 6th, 2024


Richard Bullick

The iconic Caroline O’Hanlon was the recipient of the Division One No 9 jersey when ladies gaelic football’s inaugural Teams of the National League were unveiled back in 2009 and the wheel has come full circle a decade and a half later.

Timeless midfield maestro O’Hanlon is one of seven Orchard heroes who will be honoured at Croke Park this Friday night after helping Armagh make history by winning the National League title for the first time ever.

The Orchard contingent includes captain Clodagh McCambridge and Crossmaglen legend Lauren McConville, who won Player of the Match in the NFL final as Armagh came from behind to beat Kerry 2-12 to 2-9.

The two forwards who scored heavily in Armagh’s showpiece win, Aimee Mackin and former skipper Kelly Mallon, are recognised along with Dromintee dynamo Aoife McCoy and Ballyhegan livewire Grace Ferguson.

But the most eye-catching inclusion in the ceremonial line-up is the 39-year-old O’Hanlon, who has delivered a series of impressive performances in her 23rd Orchard campaign despite doubling up by also playing British SuperLeague netball for Leeds Rhinos.

It is testament to the incomparable O’Hanlon’s longevity that she has secured the same No 9 jersey that she did way back 15 years ago, when her midfield partner in the top flight line-up was Cork great Juliet Murphy.

Although the Orchard outfit’s fortunes dipped in subsequent seasons, O’Hanlon featured in the Team of the League selections for the first seven years as Armagh slid down to Division Three before bouncing back with consecutive promotions under her captaincy.

O’Hanlon and a then teenage Mackin made the Team of Division One in 2017, the last time Armagh were in the top tier, but this is the former’s first involvement in the National League Awards since then.

That has been partly because the dual star has missed some matches over recent years due to her SuperLeague netball commitments, but O’Hanlon is still doubling up this season so her inclusion is recognition of fantastic form.

The triple All Star was superb as Armagh beat recent All Ireland champions Meath by double digits in their own Ashbourne backyard and then inflicted a first defeat of the season on outgoing NFL title holders Kerry.

On the day before both those matches and also the away win against Mayo on St Patrick’s Day which booked Armagh’s place in their first ever National League final, O’Hanlon had lined out for Leeds Rhinos, making her efforts in the orange jersey even more outstanding.

The weekend of the National League final, she had to come off injured after just 15 minutes of the away win for Rhinos at Team Bath on the Friday night but somehow managed to play the full hour at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon as Armagh got over the line.

O’Hanlon was ruled out of the next two SuperLeague games but returned to the team on Sunday as injury-hit Rhinos put up a real fight before going down 64-56 to champions Loughborough Lightning in front of several thousand fans at First Direct Arena in Leeds.