By Denise Evans
New signing Caroline O’Hanlon has settled in quickly, because she had to.
The Northern Ireland captain joined her team-mates for the first time on court just a couple of weeks after signing from Sirens, at the inaugural Thunder Day.
Then her first proper taste of life in a Black and Yellow dress was at the pre-season victory over Team Northumbria at a packed Thunderdome in the New Year.
“I found it a bit of pressure because I’m a new player in front of a new crowd,” she said.
“However, it was great to play alongside great players. ”
Thunder fans are notorious in the Superleague for being enthusiastic – and loud, making the Thunderdome an intimidating place to come for visiting teams.
And O’Hanlon is relishing being on the right side of their cheers this season.
She added: “I’ve played there before and it was absolutely amazing, but to play in Black and Yellow was great, especially with the amount of fans just for a preseason friendly.”
Being based in Belfast, where she works as a doctor, means O’Hanlon has a slightly different game day journey compared to her team-mates, but she is unfazed by the travelling and it didn’t affect her form during her season with Sirens, where she had a similar commute.
It’s also helped to make her transition from Glasgow to Manchester an even smoother one.
Her 2018 Superleague season preparations have been punctuated by turning out for her country in the European qualifiers for next year’s World Cup, where Northern Ireland qualified alongside Scotland, at the expense of Wales.
O’Hanlon, who recently won the Special Recognition Award at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, said: “It’s busy but Thunder have been very supportive and proactive in organising it and taking control of (my travel).
“Fatigue is on my mind but I just have to plan things well in advance and this year we have a break with the Commonwealth Games, which I think will help.”
A reunion with her former team mates comes quickly for O’Hanlon, with Thunder playing Sirens for their first home game of the season in round two, at new venue Belle Vue Stadium.
But there’ll be no time for sentiment – or questions of loyalty, with O’Hanlon firmly focused on winning, regardless of who stands in the way.
The star centre, who has as also played for Team Northumbria, said: “It’s going to be odd, especially so early in the season but Sirens are a completely different team from when I played with them and they have new players in at both ends.
“I’ve been here a couple of times before, after playing for Northumbria, but Thunder is my focus and where my loyalty is, 100 per cent.
“Belle Vue is a great opportunity to get a bigger crowd in and the fans here are really loud and much more of them will be a real positive for the team. I’m looking forward to it.”
There’s one on-court duel Thunder fans will be relishing more than others, with O’Hanlon expected to face-off against former captain Sara Bayman, who is still regarded as a legend of the club.
While aware of the significance of the match-up, O’Hanlon won’t be distracted by it on the day.
“I am more focused on the fact that I’m new.. I haven’t thought a whole lot about Sara,” she admitted, bullishly.
” I know that she has a great history at the club and she is a very strong player, but my focus is to get in the team and gel with the players around me. I’m not feeling the pressure.”