My time at the Olympics: An interview with Irish hockey star Shane O’Donoghue

Gillian Chapman

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Back in 2016, the Irish men’s field hockey team became the first Irish ‘team’ to qualify for the Olympic games since 1948 and the first Irish hockey team to qualify since 1908. Following a long qualification process, they were on the road to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The team was coached by Craig Fulton and captained by David Harte.

Shane O’Donoghue played on that team and the circular sat down with him to ask about the road to Rio and talk about the hard work, dedication and commitment required to reach that level. Shane is 24-years old and from Dublin, he has played hockey since the age of 5.  In 2014/15 he signed a contract and spent a year in Belguim playing in one of Europe’s top clubs, Dragons. Thus far he has 139 caps for the Irish men’s team.

Speaking to Shane it was clear that the qualification process was a challenging one making it all the more special when the team qualified  “It was not a straightforward qualification as we had to wait almost 4 months until it was 100% definite. We played the Olympic qualifier in Antwerp in my old club K.H.C Dragons in 2015 and we finished 5th in the standings of the tournament which we were fairly confident that it would qualify us for the Rio Olympics. We had to wait until the end of October for the Oceanic Cup in which we needed Australia to beat New Zealand. I remember watching the game over in Belgium in the early hours of the morning, and it was nerve-wracking. The game was very tight and New Zealand was playing on home soil and this was their last chance saloon to qualify for the Rio Olympics. The final whistle went and I was ecstatic. It was a long wait but it was a dream come true.”

Once qualified the team’s attention rapidly turned to a rigorous training programme to ensure that they were ready to take on the monumental task of the Olympic games,  “A hell of a lot of work went into training and preparing for the Olympic Games. From January 2016 we had a 3-week warm-weather training camp in Cape Town followed by a  series of friendlies against Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Holland, France and Korea not to mention a 5 Nations tournament in Valencia only a few weeks out from the Games itself. Myself and a number of players were based overseas and we flew back after all of our matches on a Sunday to Dublin to train twice a day Monday and Tuesday and then fly back to train and play with our clubs on the continent. I was in a luxurious position at the time playing professional hockey but other teammates were balancing a job and their hockey which is no easy task.”

With the Olympic games being the worlds largest sporting occasion, the Circular was keen to find out just what it felt like arriving at the games  “We arrived a few days before the opening ceremony so it allowed us to explore and take in everything about the Olympic Village. You nearly had to pinch yourself at times when the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Mo Farah, Serena Williams were only a few feet away from you at times. Very cool experience and quite difficult to put into words. The Olympic village was beautiful. Everything was for free, whether you wanted a new gum shield, food, drinks even McDonald’s was for free. The morning of our first game I felt a little bit nervous as it was finally the moment where I was going to step out on the pitch to represent not only my country but my family, my girlfriend and my club. Not to mention, all the good luck and how proud we are messages I received from numerous people close to me and people who I hadn’t seen in years. Once I got out on the pitch and we sang the national anthem for the first time, it was such an immense feeling of pride, honour and of course happiness. “
Olympics symbol. Photo Credit: Christine Rondeau
Olympics symbol. Photo Credit: Christine Rondeau
Shane explained how the atmosphere at the games was nothing like he had ever felt, ” The atmosphere at the games was indescribable. There were a few hundred travelling supporters there and as in every sport, other nations love cheering for the Irish! There was just a great buzz and atmosphere at every game and it just pumped you up so much walking out onto the pitch.”
Shane had many supporters who travelled to Rio with him, which he says made the experience all the more special “My family, my girlfriend Emma and my cousins came out to support me. That’s what made it extra special, to be honest, having all the people who have supported me and been there for me for so many years. Looking back retrospectively, seeing my loved ones cheering me on at the Games is something that I will cherish for a long long time.”
One of the most exciting aspects of going to the Olympic games is being in the midst of the greatest athletes in the world “In the hockey world, you play each other so many times that you are familiar with one another and from playing abroad, you play with some of these players from different nations. We interacted with fellow Team Ireland athletes and got to know them and everything about their sport. I got the chance to meet and talk to Sergio Garcia which was pretty cool and even better, a few of us walked around the Olympic Golf course with Paul McGinley when we were supporting Seamus Power and Padraig Harrington. McGinley was good crack and gave us some juicy insights to why McIlroy and Lowry opted out of partaking in the Games.”
 
The team put everything into the games, in the end, the team were forced to bow out just one step away from the quarter-finals following a 3-2 defeat against Argentina with Shane scoring the penalty that made the game 2-2.
The team have now qualified for their first World Cup which is at the end of this year. Post-2018,  Shane along with the team will be doing everything they can to get Ireland to a second consecutive Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Shane also hopes to return to professional hockey abroad “I hope to experience playing professional hockey again on the continent as the standard and level of competition over there is much higher. I Hope that the future is a bright one in terms of my playing career and that I get the opportunity to experience more great moments with Ireland.”

Shane has been honoured numerous times for his ability on the field. In 2010 he was named Irish young player of the year, he Captained Leinster U21 Interprovincial winners 2012 as well as Captaining Ireland U21 to Celtic Cup & European Championship winners 2012. In 2015 He was nominated by the FIH (International Hockey Federation) for their Rising Star of the Year Award.

To follow the Irish men’s hockey team’s bid to qualify for Tokyo 2020 keep an eye on their website, www.hockey .ie.

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Gillian Chapman