Masters Hockey: ‘It’s not occupational therapy for old ladies. It’s incredibly competitive’

Hockey has followed the global trend of enabling women to continue to compete internationally into middle-age, and the Masters format is thriving so much that Ireland now fields six international age-group teams

Legend is a word that is laughably overused these days, but the woman loitering inconspicuously behind the dugouts at the recent Irish Women’s Masters Hockey Interpros definitely warranted the term.

Mary Logue was the player of her generation. She was 33 when she retired from international duty with a then Irish record of 153 caps. When she subsequently coached UCD, they won the Senior Cup for the first time in 59 years.

She now works as a psychotherapist with her own practice, but on a recent chilly Saturday Logue was on a scouting mission in her capacity as head coach of the Ireland 55s (players aged 55 and over).

“We’ve already selected the team for the Home Nations but there are new players who’ve come up from the 50s,” Logue says of a role that will involve selecting another squad for their Masters’ World Cup in Auckland in November.


Hockey has followed the welcome global trend of giving women an opportunity to continue competing internationally into middle-age and the Masters format is thriving so much that Ireland fields six international age-group teams, having started with just one 13 years ago.

Women aged from 35 to 60-plus, many of them mothers and some already grandmothers, arrived to Three Rock Rovers for the Masters Interpros with all the gear and ancillary kit (compression layers, foam rollers, oversized water bottles and protein bars) you’d expect at any elite tournament.

The fitness levels across all age groups were admirable. There was buckets of skill, and positional nous more than made up for any decrease in speed and power.

The southeast’s 40s team, alone, featured former senior internationals such as Katie Dillon, Linda Caulfield and Ciara Clarke. Paula Fitzpatrick (38), the former Irish flanker and Grand Slam winner, finished one game beaming, despite a split knuckle and bloodied chin.

What’s the difference between this and international rugby?

“I don’t get hit as much!” she says with a grin.

Hockey was Fitzpatrick’s first love. She only took up rugby in college and is back playing Division One, commuting from her home in Kilkenny to play for Glennane.

When Ireland’s Masters committee hosts the Home Nations for 35/40/45s in Cork this month she will be lining out for the national 35s, who also have a World Cup in South Africa in October.

She is still awestruck at the 82-year-old she saw in goals for Scotland’s 55s at this year’s Indoors World Cup in Nottingham.

“Masters is very competitive, England send ex-Olympians but there’s great collegiality there too,” Fitzpatrick says. “If you’re in your 20s, playing international rugby, that’s your sole focus but these players, they’ve so much more going on. Everyone’s in very different situations; people with kids and families, some looking after older relatives, trying to manage everything with their work and careers. Players really support one another and become great friends and are so grateful to be playing.”

Dee Mooney (63) is one of the four founders and the current chairperson of the 14-strong Irish Masters Committee, which started in 2011.

She plays “fourths” for Genesis and usually lines out for the Leinster 55s and Irish 60s but is currently sidelined by broken ribs.

“Some young one clobbered me with a stick in a club game,” she explains with a grin. “I started in Pembroke Wanderers, played First and Seconds, got married young, had babies and didn’t play for 20 years due to a combination of things.”

It probably reignited a bit of love for people who had put the stick down a few years ago

It was her daughter’s boyfriend, coaching the Irish 50s at the time, who encouraged her to return and she and her daughter both represented Ireland last year.

The boyfriend is now her son in-law and has survived a few awkward moments.

“He dropped me more than once!” Mooney says with a laugh. “But he was right. I’d always kept fit, gone to the gym but I wasn’t fit in a hockey sense. I’ve got my act together since.

“Some of these women never stopped [playing] and some were full senior internationals but once you come to playing with your own age-group, it’s addictive.

“If you’re representing your province you get lots of coaching and if you go on to represent Ireland, that’s a dream,” she says, pointing to Maura O’Neill from Loreto, who has already amassed 100 Masters caps.

“Some of us are stuck together with glue but we still get a thrill from playing and are still very hard on ourselves,” Mooney adds. “Our coaches over the years have never said ‘you’re too old to learn something new’. We’re constantly learning new things and constantly challenging ourselves.”

All around her were women of every age teeming with vitality and competitiveness, including former senior internationals such as Maggie Hunter, Orla Galvin, Susie Kinley, Carolyn “Shankey” Burns, Joanne O’Grady, Julie Doak, Kate Dillon, Tara Browne and Richelle Flanagan.

O’Grady captained the 55s to bronze at last year’s World Cup and memorably told one interviewer that “it’s not occupational therapy for old ladies. It is incredibly competitive, a huge amount of training goes into it.”

Others have got their first Irish vests through Masters, including Ruth McDonagh (43), who was juggling the roles of traffic warden and tournament logistics officer with captaining the Leinster 40s.

“We have 260-odd players here this weekend, 16 squads in five age categories, that’s huge growth in itself,” the 40s international from Bray said.

She somehow also finds time to manage the Irish under-18 girls and feels Ireland’s groundbreaking run to the 2018 World Cup final has been a factor in more women returning to play.

“It probably reignited a bit of love for people who had put the stick down a few years ago. There’s also a lot more clubs now pushing ‘Mothers & Others’ programmes. It’s all enabling people to think it would be nice to play again and not feel out of their comfort zone.

Karen Long-Eacrett from Limerick, who plays for the Munster 50s, points out that several in action have come through serious health issues: “And there’s me worried about a pulled muscle!”

Her team-mate Shirley Moore (56) from Waterford HC got involved in Masters from 45s onwards: “It is amazing for growing the sport, making friends and keeping women involved in sport. There are still phenomenal players out there with huge skill.

“The fact that we need two pitches that are busy for three days demonstrates the growth. It’s also a very professional set-up, very well run by women who are professional in their careers and have put that into Masters hockey. It’s run the way it should be run,” she says.

Julie Fisher from North Down HC, widely known as “JR” and sporting a sharp pixie haircut and more ear-piercings than Billie Eilish, was part of the Irish 50s team that beat Australia to win World Cup gold in 2018. She now lines out for the 60s.

“I have played hockey constantly since I was 15, even with three children, and been involved in Masters for 13 years. Whenever we started we only had a few players [per age-group], now we have selection,” she says of the need for trials now in Ulster.

Logue, in her fourth year coaching the Irish over-55s, is happy to have similar selection headaches.

Masters hockey is all voluntary and self-funded. They could do with some sponsorship, not least for hosting the upcoming 35/40/45s Four Nations in Cork on the June bank holiday weekend.

Even the cost of the software licence that Logue usually uses for match analysis has recently increased so she’s hoping that Irish Hockey might let her borrow theirs.

“I love tournament hockey,” she says. “In Masters there’s either a Europeans or World Cup every year. You have to turn up, do your training, analyse teams, devise game plans, it’s very, very intense. It’s a really structured environment and the players are fabulous. They’re an amazing group really because they’re great fun but everyone also takes it all very seriously.”