While lockdown has seen life slow down for most, Shane O’Donoghue is only getting busier and busier as his return to Ireland sees him kickstart a series of new ventures.
The record Irish international goalscorer has not only been appointed as the Glenanne player-coach and director of hockey but he is also getting an Irish franchise of the business coaching company, Mentally Fit, off the ground.
His return to Ireland came slightly earlier than expected as a result of the current pandemic; he had been looking forward to the endgame of the Belgian season and a potential playoffs push with KHC Dragons.
That was cut short just before St Patrick’s Day, enforcing his first extended break from a hockey pitch in God knows how long – well over a decade at least but maybe even since he took up the sport way back when.
O’Donoghue admits it has been hugely frustrating but, nonetheless, has found a series of different avenues to keep active in addition to his new jobs: among them, he has run sports psychology seminars with the Irish underage boys to presenting Team Ireland’s Dare to Believe online programmes.
“It’s been surprisingly busy,” he told The Hook. “Not being on the pitch is a major frustration. Hopefully things will fall into place in the next couple of months but we just don’t know.
“In one way, it’s a nice break as I have been in the Irish team since around 2010. You never get any kind of substantial break. But, across the board, people want to be back on the pitch, even just to knock a ball around.
“Hopefully this time away will give them a chance to spend time with family, catch up on work or whatever it is to then make them more hungry than ever to get back on the pitch and put their best foot forward. When that will be is uncertain which is the worrying aspect.”
The Mentally Fit franchise was a key outcome from his second spell in Belgium with Dragons. His first spell with the Antwerp club was fully focused on ramping up his game for Rio in a professional, full-time environment.
Heading back over in 2018, however, “had to be for more than just hockey” and a club connection to the company. Head-quartered in Brussels, Mentally Fit is a global organisation with over 70 coaches worldwide, offering a heavily sport-inspired coaching service to businesses – the client list has included the likes of Adidas, Heineken, Nike, pharmaceutical companies and Mastercard.
“Through Dragons, I met the founder and a couple of the senior people in the company; I fell in love with it immediately, loved the vibe and vision of the company.
“ Over time, I thought this could definitely work in Ireland. It’s unique and dynamic. From their end, they saw it as a chance to expand their wings and the franchise model is something they are pushing.”
Indeed, another franchise opened in Vietnam earlier in 2020 while others are already up and running in South Africa, Czech Republic, Romania and now Ireland.
“The way we coach and all the content is inspired by sport, validated by science and can be applicable to all businesses. That’s the mantra. We use a lot of sporting metaphors and analogies from high performance because the company, starting out, dealt a lot with teams like the Belgian Red Lions for the Beijing Olympics and then the Red Panthers for 2012.
“They have a wealth of experience with individual athletes and teams and then moved on to musicians and artists and so on. It was in that arena.”
For the moment, all sessions that the Olympian oversees are operated remotely but the aim is to create interactive and engaging sessions, judging the room and not sticking to an overly prescriptive format.
“You do your preparation but when you go in, you get a feel for the atmosphere and then almost navigate your way through it on the spot.
“It’s very creative and innovative and so whatever people put into it, is what they can get out of it which can be very different to other sessions which could be death by Powerpoint or follow a set structure for a workshop. We have a set of processes and then can attach our own story to it which can make that impact with managers, teams and CEOs in companies.”
It is the kind of work which dovetails with his studies, graduating in sports psychology in 2018 from UL. Through this, he started working with the Irish underage teams.
“That is something close to my heart and I am very passionate about working with like-minded athletes, ones who really want to excel. I started a company called Train the Brain – train the brain with Shane had a nice ring to it – working with some of the youth teams in Belgium, running a programme with a four different teams who are coming to the age of 16 to 19 when they are pushing for first team.
“It was about trying to give them some of the necessary skills for that pathway and strategies to fast-track their progress. So it’s that kind of thing I am bringing to the Irish Under-16 and 18 boys through a number of workshops.”
The dual-role with Glenanne completes the mix of roles he has taken on, initially being appointed for a two-year stint.
“it’s my boyhood club, one I look on fondly and has been part of my life since a very young age and admire what they have done. We had a very successful year in 2017-18 [winning the EYHL] between my two spells in Belgium and I am obviously very excited about it.
“It’s tricky enough to organise given the uncertainty about when the season will start so I am just reconnecting at the moment with guys I have known for a long time and putting things in place.
“It’s something I am very proud of to be the player-coach and also director of hockey, having an ambitious future view of how the club wants to be and wants to grow. We have a plan in place and I want to add what I can to get the most out of it.”
As for the Director of Hockey side of things, he will be looking to build on strong foundations after a fallow period for the club’s youth section.
“The youth section has done Trojan work in the last few years to try and build it up again to what it was and get it to a healthy level. It’s over the 100 mark which is much better and testament to that work.
“It is definitely a focus to see how we can raise the level and start to get players up to age 15 or 16 and then qualifying for adult hockey, incorporating them into the club and making them feel at home. It will be a challenge and there are a lot of clubs competing for the same talented youngsters so we will try to the best we can at the primary level with the schools we have many kids from.
“We have to be creative to try and get more and more boys and girls to come and play hockey as a whole and it will benefit the sport in Ireland.”
Sam O’Connor will be joining him back at the Glens from Beerschot in Belgium; it adds to the growing number of internationals returning to these shores for the 2020-21 season. To that end, Daragh Walsh, Lee Cole and Jeremy Duncan are also likely to be back playing in Ireland.
“Sam was disappointed not to finish off his first season in Belgium properly; he was welcomed into a really nice club over there but he is excited about coming back. Again, it’s his boyhood club and we are both looking forward to it.
“The new regime with Mark Tumilty as national coach based in Ireland will have a big positive impact in the standard of play for clubs in the EY with that constant eye watching your games so guys are excited about putting their best foot forward.”
“From the club point of view, it’s a massive boost to get him back after a year playing professionally alongside one of the best centre backs [Arthur de Sloover] for a year.”