The Leeside Legends series: Sarah Kelleher was an Irish hockey great

The Leeside Legends series: Sarah Kelleher was an Irish hockey great
Former Irish and Harlequins hockey great Sarah Kelleher, in action in World Cup '94. Picture: James Meehan/INPHO

WHEN the great hockey players are discussed, the name of Sarah Kelleher is among the most elite group of players to have graced the sport.

Since she finished playing, she has excelled as a hockey coach, overseeing the England U18s, while also running her own business consulting firm. 

Sarah was born in 1970 and reared in Ballinlough and her interest in hockey stemmed from her parents, who were members of Harlequins Hockey club.

Sarah’s hockey career took off while attending the Regina Mundi Secondary School in Douglas and under the watchful eye of coach Aoife Lane it soon became evident, she had skill to burn.

Kelleher won numerous trophies while attending school and went on to represent Munster and Ireland at U18 level.

Before she finished school, Sarah joined Harlequins and through sheer determination, soon broke into a strong first team with whom she went on to win Munster Senior League and Cup medals.

The ace hockey player left Harlequins for UCC where she helped them end a long spell without a trophy by winning the inter-varsity title.

Sarah later joined the famous Muckross club in Dublin and was part of a strong team that represented Ireland in the European Championships — an experience she will never forget.

“The difference in pace was unbelievable and despite having a strong squad compared to the Dutch and the Germans we were a league below them,” said Sarah

Kelleher was soon catching the eye of the Irish senior selectors and from 1992 to 1999 she amassed over 100 caps for her country. Sarah captained the Irish team from 1992 to 1995 and looks back on this period with a great sense of honour.

“In 1995 I made a decision to step down as captain as I wasn’t able to give the time the position deserves.

“To play for your country is an honour and to lead out the side is something I will never forget.”

Sarah Kelleher in action against Christelle Lafaury of France in 1999. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Sarah Kelleher in action against Christelle Lafaury of France in 1999. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

When Sarah completed her studies she moved to England to work with the Smurfit group in their marketing department and joined Slough in London, one of the top club sides in Britain.

In 1999, the English club won the premier league in indoor and outdoor as well as the cup becoming the first club to achieve this feat.

The league is structured like the Premier League in soccer with top clubs from all over the country taking part.

“It meant an awful lot of travel at the weekends as every second weekend I would head off late on a Friday night not returning again until late on Saturday.

“At the end of the season it was certainly worth it as we were a very successful team, but the cost of playing hockey in England can be very expensive as the Slough players paid their own expenses.

“In any season it could cost up to £2k Stg to play in the English league and that’s a lot of money for any amateur to cough up.”

Kelleher has many great memories having played hockey all over the world, but her prized memories are from 1994 when the World Cup was held in Dublin.

“To play in such a prestigious tournament is wonderful, but to play in front of your home fans against in the world that is certainly among the happiest memories of my career.

“Remember there are a lot of disappointments when you play at international level because you lose more games than you win, but for me, it was competing that always drove me on.”

Sarah is still working in London where she has her own business in marketing and although the bright lights of London are quite appealing to her, she still finds time to visit Cork quite a few times every year.

“I love coming home to see family, but I have a great career in London and that is where I am presently berthed.

Sarah Kelleher represents everything that’s good about successful sportspeople.

She is one of the most capped women’s hockey players in Ireland and is rated one of the most talented players this country has ever produced.

Sarah Kelleher is now a renowned hockey coach. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek
Sarah Kelleher is now a renowned hockey coach. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek

FACTFILE:

  • Sarah Kelleher won a total of 127 caps for Ireland in her eight years playing at international level.
  • She won Munster Senior Leagues and Cups with her first club Harlequins.
  • She was captain of Ireland between 1992 to 1995.
  • Sarah played hockey in England with Slough when she left Cork for London and retired in 2005.
  • More in this section

    Sponsored Content