Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

 
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Interviews - SPORTING LEGENDS OF IRELAND

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MAJOR SUCCESSES

Olympic Games
1984 (Los Angeles, Bronze for GB)
1988 (Seoul, Gold for GB).
1992 (Barcelona, 6th place for GB)

World Cup
1991 (Ireland finished 12th).

European Cups
1983, 1987, 1991.

AWARDS

MBE for Services to Hockey, 1993.

STEPHEN MARTIN
MEN'S FIELD HOCKEY

‘The doctors told me I would never play sport again.’ Dr. Stephen Martin still grimaces as he recalls that moment when, aged thirteen, he lay flat on a hospital bed in Bangor, trying to work out what ‘complications of the appendix’ really meant.

The idea that his sporting career might already be over was something he could not dwell upon. Flashbacks to kicking soccer balls with the Boys Brigade, gym classes at primary school, heaving mauls on the rugby pitch of Bangor Grammar, strutting out to the greens of the Donaghadee Golf Club with his uncle, scratch golfer Peter Martin.[i]

A thirst for adventure was in his blood. His mother came from Enniskillen, his father from Portadown and both moved to the coastal town of Donaghadee in the early 1950s. By the time Stephen was born in the spring of 1959, they were living in Bangor on the southern shoes of Belfast Lough.

Jim Martin, Stephen’s father, worked in the motor racing business. A veteran of the Phoenix Park circuit in Dublin, he worked closely with J.R. Pringle, a garage owner from Bangor who held a number of hill-records in Ireland. Jim used to prepare J.R.’s cars ahead of the various championships, including the Formula One Cooper with which Stirling Moss had won the Argentine Grand Prix in 1958. ‘I’d go along to all the races with my Dad as a three, four and five year old’, says Stephen. ‘I loved the smell and the noise and the atmosphere.’ In 1962, John Cooper offered Jim a job at their new Formula One base in Surrey. Unwilling to move his young family across the water, he turned the offer down and opened up a garage of his own in Bangor.

Stephen was in his second year at Bangor Grammar School when he received his late diagnosis of appendicitis. After a month in hospital, his recovery was gradual but determined. Initially, he headed out on cross-country runs to exercise his leg muscles. Then he began to stroll onto the fairways with his golfing irons.

‘I always thought I was destined to play golf, or maybe soccer, but then I discovered hockey’. His older brother introduced him to the sport. ‘He was three years above me and he showed me how to use a stick. I thought okay, the rules are pretty similar to soccer, I can do this.’

By his fourth year at Bangor, contrary to medical expectations, Stephen had muscled his way onto the school’s 1st XI hockey team. That was no mean feat given that there were 800 boys at the school, but he says it was ‘a rough year because I was too young’.

He played on the 1st XI the next year. And the next. He also continued his golfing career and was on the team who won both the Ulster and Irish Schools championship in 1976 and 1977.[ii]

At the age of 17, Stephen lined out for the Ulster hockey team in the Irish Schools. Two years later, he scored his first cap for Ireland with whom he went on to played 135 games. That included three European Cups and the 1990 World Cup in Lahore, at which Ireland were ranked 12th in the world.

On account of a loophole in the rules for citizens of Ulster, Stephen was also entitled to represent Great Britain. ‘I had the best of both worlds’, he laughs. He won his first cap for GB, as he calls it, in 1983 and went on to win a total of 94.[iii]

In the summer of 1984, he went to Los Angeles to play in the Olympics for GB. The team hit a winning streak and came home with an Olympic Bronze. He also represented GB at ten Champion Trophy Tournaments, winning Bronze in 1984 (Karachi, Pakistan) and Silver in 1985 (Perth, Australia).

In 1985, he graduated from the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, with an Honours Degree in Sports Studies

In 1988, he went to the Olympic playing fields of Seoul and helped Great Britain win a historic Gold Medal defeating Germany in the final 3-1.‘From a performance perspective, winning a Bronze and a Gold at two different Olympics has to be the key moments of my life’.

International hockey rules changed after the 1990 World Cup when it was decided by the Ulster Branch that Ireland were sufficiently strong to qualify as an Olympic team. ‘I was an Olympic champion so not unexpectedly I had a phone call asking if I wanted to play for Ireland in the Olympic qualifiers in New Zealand. But I’d already been asked to captain GB at the ’92 Olympics so I gave them the obvious answer’,

In 1992, Stephen Martin captained the GB hockey team at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. They finished 6th. Upon his return he went onto sports administration, securing an early appointment as Director of Coaching for Ulster Hockey and later in the Performance Dept at Sports Council NI.

From 1998 to 2006, he was Deputy Chief Executive at the British Olympic Association, playing a vital role in securing London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics. He was Deputy Chef de Mission for ‘Team GB’ at the 2000 Sydney, 2002 Salt Lake and 2004 Athens Olympics. The latter was GB’s most successful Olympics in 80 years.

In January 2006, he was promoted first Chief Executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland. He worked closely with the Irish team for Beijing 2008 and is now involved in planning and preparation for London 2012.

The Olympic Council are based in the Dublin suburb of Howth, where the smell of seaweed and the squawks of gulls rolls along the rocks to Stephen’s office. North along the coast is Malahide where he lives with his wife Dorothy (maiden name Armstrong) A part-time teacher at Priory College in Hollywood, Co. Down, Dorothy was pretty handy with a hockey stick herself in times past. She played senior league hockey for Knock and Grosvenor Ladies. They have two children, Patrick and Hannah. Patrick has represented Ulster on the under 16s, U18s, and U21 levels respectively. Hannah is currently in the Irish U16 squad preparing for the European Youth Championships. ‘They both enjoy the team aspect and camaraderie of hockey’ says Stephen.[iv]

In 2008 and 2009, Stephen played alongside Patrick for the 2nd XI team at Lisnagarvey Hockey Club. It was all for fun but when Patrick became a regular on the 1st XI, Stephen had to take a back seat. ‘Dad’s very competitive’, said Patrick. ‘He still trains a lot just to keep fit and we do some endurance runs together.’

Stephen’s exercise regime in the present age is dictated by the obligations of office life. He aims to fit in an hours cycling and three 30 minute runs a week. ‘With old injuries I know how to manage the body better’, he says.

One of Stephen’s goals is to make sport more alluring to young people. ‘You can waste a lot of money trying to get people involved in sport. It’s better to spend the resources on those who want to be involved. Once you’ve captured people’s interest, that’s the time to spend time developing their interest. There’s nothing better than a role model. Irish rugby is doing well, so young people are playing rugby. If your county Gaelic team is doing well, more people will play that. When Padraig Harirngton wins a major, it helps to fuel that interest. People want to be the next sports star. Sports need to have programmes in place to capture that interest”

He also has a word of advice for those whose sporting careers come to an end when they reach their mid-30s. ‘In some sports, money is a factor. But for a lot of sports, you’re never going to make your millions and it’s more about fulfilling your potential, your sense of achievement. You have to be prepared for the transition so that when you leave the sport. Athletes should challenge themselves to take on a post graduate qualification, or some part-time work in their area of your interest … its important they continue to develop as a person so the transition post sport is easier.’

FOOTNOTES

[i] ‘Soccer was my favourite sport at that time. I was pretty good at it but then I started playing golf when I was 10. My uncle was a scratch golfer – my father’s brother Peter – and he taught us how to play. My course record at Donaghadee GC was 2 under par 69, at 14 years of age”. His mother’s maiden name was Hendeson and his primary school was Bloomfield Road Primary School, Bangor.

[ii] His team, which made Bangor the top golf school in Ireland, included Stephen’s older brother Philip Martin, Mark Robson (now on Sky TV) and David Feherty (former European Tour and PGA golfer, now a broadcaster).

[iii] ‘It was just after the European Championship when they were putting together a squad for the 1984 Olympics. Ulster had already agreed that if you had a dual passport then you could play for GB. So I was duly selected for that and I was able to play Europeans and World for Ireland and Olympics for GB.’

[iv] In 2010, Patrick is head boy of Sullivan Upper School, a coeducational school in Holywood, where 14-year-old Hannah is also at school. ‘We’re very proud of our children’s achievements ’, says Stephen.


Articles

Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.