O'Hanlon hoping to upset the odds again as Northern Ireland Warriors begin World Cup qualifying campaign

Caroline O'Hanlon in action for Nothern Ireland during a recent friendly match against Uganda Picture: Stephen Hamilton
Richard Bullick

FRESH from snatching unfancied Carrickcruppen a draw with hot favourites Clann Eireann in last Sunday’s Armagh Senior Championship final in ladies football, Caroline O’Hanlon is aiming to upset the odds in international netball this week.

The multi-talented Bessbrook ace admits that her Northern Ireland Warriors will be up against it in the six-team World Cup qualifying tournament at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena as they chase one of the two places available at next summer’s finals in South Africa.

Top seeds Wales and hosts Scotland, both of whom benefit from having British SuperLeague franchises, considerably deeper player pools and more resources, are tipped to reach Cape Town 2023 at the expense of O’Hanlon’s girls in green.

The Warriors should get up and running with a straightforward win today (5pm) against a Gibraltar team ranked 33rd in the world and aren’t expected to be troubled by the improving Republic of Ireland in tomorrow afternoon’s derby battle.

The first crunch clash comes at teatime on Friday against the Scots, followed by a Saturday showdown with Wales, and two wins would seal qualification for Elaine Rice’s team ahead of the concluding game against Isle of Man at lunchtime on Sunday.

As always so much will depend upon world-class centre O’Hanlon, who came through the Orchard domestic showpiece unscathed much to Rice’s relief and even netted Carrickcruppen’s equalising penalty deep in injury-time for good measure.

Just like the Lowe’s Lane women weren’t bothered by the pessimistic predictions at the Athletic Grounds, O’Hanlon is happy to take the tag of underdogs going into this tournament and says the Warriors are relishing the challenge ahead.

“Wales and Scotland are the higher ranked teams. Going by that they should qualify, so there’s no pressure on us but a real sense of opportunity from feeling we’re capable of producing what might be seen as a surprise,” she insists.

“Hopefully beating one of them should be enough but I think we have the potential to get a result against either or both so there’s a quiet confidence in the camp and as always we’ll fight hard for each other.”

The Warriors have warmed up for the World Cup qualifiers with two training games against English Premier League champions Oldham followed by good battles with Uganda, ranked sixth in the world, in front of capacity crowds in Craigavon and Newtownards.

“The Commonwealth Games gave us something to build upon and since then we’ve continued to improve as a group. It was great getting those games against Uganda and we were given a fantastic send-off from our fans ahead of Glasgow.

“I think the group is in a really good place at the moment and feel like everyone is getting up to speed and peaking at the same time. Not having the pressure of favouritism suits us and the mood is very positive going into this tournament,” declares NI captain O’Hanlon.

NI WARRIORS (squad): Caroline O’Hanlon (capt), Olivia McDonald, Michelle Magee, Fionnuala Toner, Niamh Cooper, Michelle Drayne, Frances Keenan, Rachel Duckers, Georgie McGrath, Ciara Crosbie, Alex Martin, Orlaith Rogers.