It was back in 2005 that I participated in my first Veterans state championships. Boy, what an eye opener that weekend turned out to be! I realised what a novice I was at the game (at least at tournament level) having never played at a championships before at any age, and how I had underestimated the Veterans scene! At the time I had been playing hockey for ten years after taking up the sport at the tender age of about 29 when my brother and his mate invited me to play. I said, "why not"?. After ten years I thought I knew all there was to know about hockey until I was pestered by some local 'old farts' to come along to the over 40's championships . I insisted I was not that old until they informed me of the age requirements (turning 40 that calendar year). I must admit I was not greatly inspired by the thought of the idea. I had imagined it to be a bit of a 'hit and giggle' affair and agreed to go along to help make up the numbers for the guys that had pestered me about it for over 12 months . Well, along I went to Albion Park unaware of what was to unfold before my eyes. We arrived early in order to settle in to surroundings and warm up before our first game. In that time I got to watch a couple of the games. " Geez!..these guys don't muck around do they? " was my first reaction. There were players of what appeared to be varying ages(some definitely older than 40) but with impressive skills and determination. I was impressed and excited all of a sudden and couldn't wait for our first game. Yep...I went like a bull at a gate in that first game..scored two goals and players player..all of a sudden I was up for the challenge and rearing to go. All the 'old farts' were suitably impressed with my performance, but warned the 'virgin veteran' that there were a few more games to get through and that I should 'peg it back a notch'or I may start walking like a few of the older guys. I attempted to heed their advice in our second game, but the challenge of a very good opposition put paid to my attempts at pacing myself. We went down 2-1 to Tamworth in that hard fought game and I was a little disappointed with the result, but more than excited at the challenge that was presenting itself before me. Our team did well winning the remainder of our round games and also our semi final against a tough Dubbo team. After 5 games in just over two days I understood fully the advice the experienced had given me. I was no longer feeling like the young Whippersnapper of the team. My whole body ached from head to toe, even though we still had a final to play ...against Tamworth!! After our semi-final all the boys were organising how to get to a Unanderra. "Why?"..I asked. "Thats where all the finals are played." "What do you mean ALL THE FINALS?" I was so naive about the whole veterans and tournament concept that I was totally unaware that our team was playing in 'C' division and that there were 2 divisions of a higher standard being played at Unanderra. So..along we went to Unanderra. We arrived with plenty of time before our final and I got to witness a couple of games of A and B division. Holy Crap !!..these guys were good! If I was impressed when I first laid eyes on a game at Albion Park, I was totally blown away by the skill and fitness level of the players, particularly in A division. Talk about being inspired. Even though my body was a wreck after 5 games I couldn't wait to play our final, especially now that we were playing on the water base pitch. The warm-up for our final was tough to say the least. It took plenty of shuttle runs and stretches to get rid of the stiffness and soreness that had set in. I even resorted to using half a tube of dencorub to ease me in. As I've discovered, this magic cream makes regular appearances in veterans team change sheds. All that stiffness and soreness disappeared relatively quickly though once the adrenalin and blood started pumping through the veins after the game had started. What a game! Both teams shot out of the gates as if it was our first of the tournament...after all this was the final! We both had a few good opportunities to put goals on the card, but both defences held firm as the game went from end to end. In the second half a few bodies looked decidedly weary including mine, but the determination didn't stop. It went down to the wire with both teams hitting the post until Tamworth sneeked a trickler in past our goal keeper when he was wrong footed. There was 2 min left on the clock. For Tamworth that 2 min seemed like an eternity as we hammered there end of the field, while to us it went way too quickly as we attempted to ram home an equaliser. But it was not to be and Tamworth took home the medal. Both teams shared handshakes and smiles after the game and a mutual understanding of a rewarding and satisfying achievement and camaraderie. After the presentation of trophies to all the winning teams the organisers went about announcing 3 teams to represent NSW at the Australian Veterans Championships. Get that?..Australian championships for old farts!! Lo and behold my name was read out in the third team after our manger had put in a nomination on my behalf. I remember him mentioning this way back in the piece, but my indifferent attitude to the whole thing prevented me from paying much attention to it, so I was pleasantly surprised at my selection and excited with anticipation after everything I had just experienced the past three days! Since that tournament in 2005 I have embraced the Veterans Hockey concept and it has given me a new lease of life to the game of hockey. Prior to this I was comtemplating buying a goalkeeper kit, as I figured the only way I could stay competitive as I grew older was to get inside the goalmouth. How wrong I was. And that's no disrespect to goalkeepers as even in Veterans hockey the goalkeepers are of a very high standard and take it just as seriously and competitively as the field players. In a world wind Australian championships later that year I was lucky enough (in a series of planet aligning events)to be promoted to the number 1 team during the tournament and experienced the most skillful and competitive hockey of my life when our team won the National title!. Not only was the level of hockey unbelievable, but I was able to make a whole new network of friends that I still see regularly today. Since then I have competed in every 40's State championships, as well as Australian championships and been to parts of Australia I would never have visited otherwise. In October of this year I will be fortunate enough to experience my first International tournament when I represent Australia in the Australian 40's team in Hong Kong. Sometimes I still need to pinch myself that it has happened. I now also play in a regular Veterans competition midweek during the season, which I tend to enjoy more than my Saturday hockey. And you know what..the older you get..the more you appreciate every game you play and every friendship you make! And to think, I thought it was just going to be a bit of a 'hit and giggle'!
Louie the lip.