** Picture by Irfon Bennett/EHF
Ireland’s record goalscorer Shane O’Donoghue became the eighth Irish men’s international to reach the 200 cap mark last Sunday when he led the side out against Austria in the third place playoff at the World Cup qualifier tournament in Cardiff.
Since making his debut in 2011, the Glenanne man has racked up an incredible 115 international goals, become a European bronze medalist in 2015, a 2016 Olympian in Rio and played in the 2018 World Cup in India, scoring on each stage. Not to mention a number of individual accolades on along the way as well as playing professional overseas.
While the tie against Austria was not quite how he would have hoped to celebrate the occasion, missing out on a 2023 World Cup spot a day earlier in a shoot-out against Wales, O’Donoghue said he was immensely proud of this milestone and to wear the captain’s armband for the occasion was special but the greater prize of a world cup ticket was the sole focus.
“To lead the team out was a huge honour and a privilege,” he said. “From a milestone point of view, I was very proud to have the parents over there and would have loved to have the girlfriend and close friends over as well. Not the stage I was hoping for but when is life straightforward!”
Such milestones offer a time for reflection and the midfielder says the many highlights are as much a product of the behind-the-scenes work, dedication and support as the marquee moments in themselves.
“There is a lot of pride in the work that’s been put in and the great thing is you you’re doing it with a highly dedicated squad of 30 or 40 guys, staff members, coaches, managers, S&C, nutritionists, physios, the list goes on.
“We’re all sharing that same dream of putting the Irish men’s hockey team on the map of international hockey and to put it into the eyes of people here in Ireland to see how exciting the sport is and the potential that exists.
“When you look back in moments like this, you reflect on the different milestones and memories, it does make you think about all the hard graft that went into the training sessions, those sessions when you weren’t really in the mood but you grafted and ground out those tough sessions, those fitness tests, those 6am gym sessions, where it’s very easy to not turn up and put the work in.
“It’s really those moments where maybe you questioned why you do what you do but in reality, there was always something pushing you on!
“So when those big wins did come around, they are extra special; the 2015 bronze medal win in London was really spectacular. And then going to the Olympic Games, which is the pinnacle of our sport, something that we came agonisingly close to four years prior to that.
“The World Cup, although it didn’t pan out the way we hoped, was a first for this team; It is really those major tournaments when you’re mixing it with the best of the best, that you realise how far we’ve come. In 2017, we were winning a lot of games, we were playing some good hockey and competing against some of world hockey’s beat outfits. We discovered our style that suited us and we were riding that wave really high during those few years.
“You think of those glory days, it’s those memories you create with those groups players and staff that are all buying into the same common cause and everybody is sacrificing different things in different ways and investing a lot of time, energy and passion.
“Ultimately, we’re all there for the same reason. And we’re motivated to achieve the same goal. It’s really the journey that you look back on and say, wow, there was a lot of grafting, sacrifices made to achieve those and not to forget the setbacks that built character”