Batemans prove the perfect match for Harlequins

Bill George talks to a husband and wife team driven

HOCKEY is not just a pastime for husband and wife team Karen and Wesley Bateman. It is more a way of life.

Because of this, the next two weeks represent a significant time in their lives when they play with their home-town club, Harlequins, in their respective Irish Senior Cup finals.

Karen is first up on Sunday when Harlequins play Loreto in a Cup final televised live on RTÉ at 4.20 pm.

And if Harlequins repeat the victory they enjoyed two years ago, their men's team, with Wesley in goal, will seek to complete the big double two weeks later when they play Lisnagarvey.

"It really would be fantastic if the two of us were to win" said Karen, "Playing in our last cup final was definitely one of the highlights of my career.

"Winning the Irish Cup was the best feeling you can get in hockey, so I'm really looking forward to it."

Harlequins men's team differ from the ladies in that they have never succeeded in winning their Irish Cup. But they have in their ranks a couple of players who won Irish Cup medals with Church of Ireland three years ago.

Wesley said: "I won a medal with C of I but I have always been a Harlequins man and ever since I first played with the club it has been a dream of mine to win an Irish Cup with them."

It was ironic that Bateman should have succeeded in capturing hockey's most elusive trophy while on temporary leave of absence from Harlequins, a separation that lasted just two years.

Enjoyable as that was, he was not short of words when asked to explain what it would mean to win a second cup medal with Harlequins. "It would be a dream come true because so many people have given so much time and effort to the club.

"Our manager, Donal Kingston, has been there for years and you can see what it means for parents and aunts and uncles when we come off after winning, I mean we won the last three rounds on penalties which is phenomenal and their celebrations after the match alone just shows the spirit there is in the club." he said.

To illustrate the point a little further he needed only to recall the victory of the ladies' team in their last cup final appearance. "When the ladies won it there was a pitch invasion. I've never seen Belfield so busy on the day and then, when we won, the pitch was mobbed with people and that never happens.

Both Karen and Wesley emphasised the necessity for Harlequins' teams to concentrate on their individual games without letting seductive thoughts of a double cause a distraction. But the prospect is so unusual that it is inevitably commands attention.

Pembroke Wanderers was the last club to win the double of senior cups in one season. Lifting the two cups is as difficult to achieve as a gold bullion heist from Fort Knox but they cracked it in 1973.

It is such a beguiling thought that Harlequins' personnel almost shy away from contemplating it. It figures that it represents an especially significant season for the Batemans, the culmination of many years of training and hard work. However, their high profiles have not come without sacrifice and this week, Karen (a winner of 41 international caps) was obliged to make another.

She received the latest of several invitations from Ireland's international coach, Riet Kuper, to restart her international career by joining an Irish training camp for the Easter weekend.

Pressure of business has forced her to decline. "I spoke to the boss this week and suggested I take an unpaid career break but it is not possible. I would have to be missing for 28 days between June and September and although I thought of taking my lap-top with me it just would not work out."

Karen is a website designer with a computer firm. "I love what I do, that's the other side of it" she said. "If I take a career break now my boss cannot guarantee my job will be there, but my career has to be number one now at this stage of my life and hockey has to be number two."

Playing hockey at the top level is an expensive business, it always has been for one of the few genuinely amateur sports in this country. And nothing illustrates that more than the fact that Ireland's international players have to pay their own way.

It seems incongruous to record, for instance, that Wesley Bateman had to pay 150 last season to buy the Irish international shirt he has worn so proudly in nine internationals.

Playing for Ireland can be a constant drain on the resources of a young married couple battling to pay a mortgage and building a life in these expensive times.

Wesley said: "We get as many into a car as possible when we travel to Dublin for Ireland training. For meals and things like that when you're up there you're pretty much left to your own resources.

"I mean the Hockey Association doesn't have much money and you do have to fork out. However, when you go away with Ireland you do get fed and that, but for weekend training you do lose out financially.

"You don't lose out a hell of a lot and you will be spending money yourself anyway, but when you train for Ireland you do expect to be covered.

"Last year we had to pay for our own gear, our international playing shirts and that.

"We all chipped in, we had to pay 150 to get our own tracksuits and our own playing shirts and when they told us I started laughing because I thought they were taking the piss. But that was the case."

He works for Environmental Engineering Ltd, on Cork's Curraheen Road where he plans air conditioning for new and existing buildings.

His employer's attitude is exceptional, he stressed, and his involvement with Ireland was only possible through their co-operation.

The financial constraints within hockey were illustrated when Harlequins recently hosted the men's and ladies' interprovincial championships over one weekend.

Harlequins men's team will play in the European club championship finals in Brussels at the end of April and the members of their team ran the kitchen service for the interprovincials, making soup, sandwiches, tea and coffee to raise money to fund their trip.

Their attitude is redolent of the old Corinthian spirit that was the essence of true sport. So, was it hockey and Harlequins brought them together? Wesley "Yeah." Karen "Pretty much, yeah."

Wesley: "We knew each other through the club. It started off about seven-and-a-half years ago, we were always hanging round in the club."

Karen: "We knew each other about a year-and-a-half before it became serious. It was Ivan's (Wesley's brother) wedding to Bridget which was the first time I took notice of Wesley anyway.

"Ivan and Bridget's wedding. So it was about a year later when we kind of got together."

Harlequins where hockey is a way of life and love stories begin. And an Irish Senior Cup medal means so much.

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