FROM volunteering for his daughters’ hockey club to looking forward to playing hockey in the World Cup in Spain this summer...
Cork-born Dennis O’Connor came to the game relatively late in life and is thrilled to be able to represent his country at an age grade level of 55 and over.
The 57-year-old father-of-two and stepfather-of-three, who runs a not-for-profit consulting, recruitment and research company called 2into3 wasn’t interested in sports when he was a boy.
Brought up on the Mardyke, Dennis attended Presentation Brothers College but chose not to play rugby.
“I wasn’t that interested in rugby,” he says. “It was hard to get other sporting opportunities, so my sporting development came later.”
As a student of commerce at UCC, followed by studying for a master’s degree in business, he became involved in soccer at university, having played it on the street as a kid.
“I was fortunate to make it to the freshers’ team and had a very happy time playing soccer in UCC. I got involved in coaching and I was club secretary and chairman.
When I finished playing soccer, I became a coach for the UCC junior soccer team which won the Crowley Cup in 1988.
“While I played briefly with Wilton United under-15s, it was really in UCC that my sporting career took off. Since that time, I’ve always been active, doing something.”
Dennis’s eldest daughter, Ellen, now aged 24, started to play hockey at Rathdown School in Glenageary in Dublin.
“Her late mum thought it might be good for Ellen to be involved in a club. So she joined the Avoca Hockey Club in Blackrock, near where we live. I started volunteering at the club, helping out on match days.”
Subsequently, Ellen’s sister, Catherine, now aged 19, started to play at the club.
“She’s very interested and is playing with UCD and coaching at Avoca Hockey Club and at Rathdown School. Ellen doesn’t play any more.”
Dennis, who has an Irish Hockey Association Level 1 badge, got involved in coaching underage teams at Avoca Hockey Club.
“I heard about veteran hockey players playing on Wednesday nights so I decided to try it. In soccer, I played mainly as a midfielder. In hockey, I started in defence and then became a forward which is what I play now.”
A skilful game, Dennis says there is less tackling in hockey than soccer. Played on Astroturf, Dennis says the main danger in the game is that “the ball might hit you. And it’s quite a hard ball. Or you might be hit by a stick. You will get a few bumps and bruises.
“I’ve injured a leg ligament and a calf muscle here and there. I cut my head once from a ball but I’ve had less injuries in hockey than I had playing soccer.”
Now that his children have grown up, Dennis has more time to play hockey.
“During the season, I play for the Avoca Men’s Thirds. We play in division 6. You might be up against a youngster or two but it’s great fun.”
While hockey is more popular among females than males, Dennis says it’s quite a popular game among men in the south county Dublin area where he lives.
He was thrilled to discover there is age grade competitive hockey at international level.
“You can play for your country at seventy and over. I’ve only just started to play at international level. I was in a tournament recently in Holland, representing Ireland for over 55s. It was great fun and I’m looking forward to the summer. I’ll be playing in Italy and in the Home Nations in Belfast as well as the World Cup in Spain.
“It’s wonderful that it’s a game that gives you the opportunity to play at an age-grade level. We were in Holland recently in a three-day tournament.”
How would he rate his game out of ten?
“My skill level as a forward, even though I only took up the game six years ago, would be at six or seven.”
While Dennis loves coaching, he adds: “It’s hard to do at my level so I’m taking a pause from it for the next few years. Later, I’d like to go back to coaching.”
Much of Dennis’s free time is taken up with hockey: “Normally in the off-season, I go to the gym and there’s quite a few training sessions with the Irish team. It keeps me well exercised. It’s nice to play in a team game and to be able to play for Ireland is a great honour.
“Games are pitched at different age levels in tennis, badminton and marathon running. I think age grade level is going to become a bigger feature of a lot of sports.”
This month, Dennis took part in the Verona de França international Masters Tournament, in Verona Italy.
Then it’s onto the Home Nations Masters from June 22 to 24 at Lisnagarvey in Belfast
The Masters World Cup is from July 27 to August 5 in Teressa, Spain.