Irish legend David Judge passes away at 79

David Judge, one of the giants of Irish hockey, passed away at the age of 79 on Saturday afternoon following an incredible life in the sport.

During his career, he played 124 times for Ireland between 1957 and 1978, a time when international matches were far more scarce than the modern era.

Indeed, he played in over 90% of the fixtures available including the 1978 World Cup and first two editions of the European Cup. A determined defender, he would also captain Ireland over 30 times.

David Judge, left, making a tackle

David Judge, left, making a tackle

The pinnacle of his playing career came when he, along with Harry Cahill, became one of very few Dubliners to play hockey in the Olympic Games, lining out for Great Britain in Tokyo in 1964.

He was allowed to do so by quirk in the rules, a grand-parent ruling of sorts that allowed him to qualify for GB – while also playing for Ireland – as they were British passport holders prior to the formation of the Irish state.

He would later joke that he had some difficulty explaining to the Queen how he and Cahill came to be in Buckingham Palace at a homecoming lunch in the Long Gallery.

His beginnings in the game began in the back garden of his home in Rathgar where he played with his brother Norman where he reckoned his “competitive character” was first formed.

From there, he took up the game in a formal setting first at the Avoca School, citing Major Mallins, an ex-Indian Army man, as a primary influence. He would give him apples as target practice in the corner of each goal. If he hit one, he would get an apple in return.

Exchanging pennants against USSR

Exchanging pennants against USSR

An early memory was of a Minor Cup final, losing 1-0 against St Patrick’s with Derek Hennessy scoring the only goal.

From Avoca, he moved on to board at Portora in Co Fermanagh. Predominantly a rugby school, JV Tapley – a teacher there – introduced “parade ground hockey with a hurley ball” as well as matches on the Broadmeadow against the girls’ Collegiate School or away against the King’s Dragoon Guards in Omagh.

While there, he was selected to play for the Ulster Schools in a team that spawned three senior internationals – Bruce Dowling, Richard Fitzsimon and himself. Judge would later say that he owed Major Mallins and JV Tapley most for developing his hockey.

Nonetheless, a return to Dublin to Trinity College almost ended his fledgling career as he briefly thought of pursuing rugby.

“A sunny day in late September in College Park, would I get onto the 1st XI or the first XV quickest?” he said later. “Jack Kirwan, who I’d played holiday rugby with on Palmerston schools side, was tempting me to join the DURFC.

Lining out against his son Dermot for Three Rock Rovers against Trinity

Lining out against his son Dermot for Three Rock Rovers against Trinity

“For some reason hockey won out, possibly Richard Fitz as was his wont, grabbing my lapels and holding me up in the air!”

It was a time rich with memories, of regular tours to England and Scotland, the Mauritius Cup and associated dinners and subsequent selection to the illustrious Buccaneers touring team.

The international side soon came calling, adding a new dimension. Looking back, he modestly recollected that he had a few extra benefits going for him in terms of selection compared to his rivals.

“In those days, the international team was picked by six selectors, two from Ulster, Munster and Leinster, who watched a final trial match and then selected the XI plus one sub.

“I had two advantages – first, two sets of selectors on my side – I was an ex-Ulster schools player and I was playing in Leinster. The second was I was playing with ultra white boot laces, cleaned the night before – pure marketing!”

His debut came in Inverness, taking an overnight cattle boat to Glasgow and then an all-day bus for 70 minutes of hockey, 0-0. Later that season, he played Holland and South Africa in Holland as part of the first team to fly to an international match.

With fellow Olympian Harry Cahill

With fellow Olympian Harry Cahill

For the first decade of his Irish career, fixtures were very much limited to the Home Nations with games against Wales followed up by golf games the next day against the same opponents while waiting for the mail-boat.

1970, though, saw a seismic shift with the berth of the European Cup in Brussels, introducing increased tournament hockey and squad systems.

He fondly remembered the Santander Tournament where both Spain and Great Britain were defeated and the camaraderie at the World Cup qualifier in Rome, qualifying for the World Cup in Argentina.

It was the last one to be held on grass. On St Patrick’s Day, at the Hurling Club, prior to their fixture against the hosts, Judge and his team mates had to push start their team bus.

The Olympics, though, was another level. Preparations started with tournaments in France punctuated by visits to Beaujolais vineyards. A tour to India followed with 11 matches in 14 days across the length and breadth of the country before a stop off in Ceylon for a week and then on to Tokyo.

“The competitive atmosphere in the village was electric – one met all and sundry over meals or in the athletes common room. The GB athletics performed well – so much so that on the day of our return the entire party was invited to Buckingham Palace!”

He also won everything in the Irish club game with Three Rock Rovers including Leinster league, Mills Cup and Irish Senior Cup titles.

After his retirement from playing, he coached Avoca’s men and Old Alex’s women to numerous club titles and went on to be president of the Leinster Hockey Association, overseeing the merger of the women and men’s branches. He was duly inducted into the IHA Hall of Fame in the first selection to the honour in 2006.

He is survived by his wife Grania, son Dermot, daughters Wendy, Kerri and Heather and grandchildren.

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