Love of what he does keeps him going

The doyen of North Otago sport Terry O’Neill reflects on 49 years of covering 
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The doyen of North Otago sport Terry O’Neill reflects on 49 years of covering sport for the region. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN
The Manapouri power station was completed.

Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first New Zealand store.

And the Melbourne Cup became the first sporting event to be broadcast live via satellite in this country.

It was 1971 and the doyen of North Otago sport Terry O'Neill was making his first foray into the world of sports journalism.

Back then the 82-year-old said North Otago rugby did not get much coverage in the local newspaper.

So O'Neill and another member of the North Otago Rugby Union approached the editor of the Oamaru Mail about providing some copy.

The newspaper agreed and O'Neill and a colleague began providing reports once a week.

A humble beginning to a humble career.

O'Neill has been paid during the years but it is not what most people would call an income.

His real job was teaching - he taught at St Kevin's College for 42 years. But he covered sport in the weekends because he loved it and that love is what has kept him going for 49 years.

That extraordinary service was acknowledged earlier this week.

O'Neill was presented with the services to sport award at the Waitaki Sports awards in Oamaru earlier this week.

"My part has always been the easy part - I enjoy doing it," O'Neill said when asked how it felt to be recognised in that fashion.

"The ones who should be getting this award would have to be the people who go out there at night to train them and on the weekends to do their jobs coaching, managing or administrating."

O'Neill, who played representative rugby for the Old Golds, worked for the Oamaru Mail up until 1990.

He then started providing regular reports for the Otago Daily Times and continues to work for the newspaper today.

Just yesterday he had a North Otago club rugby season preview published.

O'Neill expanded into broadcasting in 1977. He began with 4ZB and worked for different stations throughout the years. In all, he covered 370 live games of rugby.

He has seen plenty of great players in that time but it is some of the blokes he played with he recalls the best.

Jock Hamilton was coming to the end of his playing days when O'Neill was just making his way up. Hamilton was a gifted centre and an All Black triallist.

"I remember we were playing Canterbury B and I was the new boy in the team at second five-eighth. We had a scrum about 15m out from the Canterbury line and Jock came up and said `When you get the ball, I want you to angle to the right, put the ball there like that and I will score between the posts'.

"I did what I was told and Jock went straight between the posts and came back and said, `See, I told you'.

"He was the most brilliant guy I've played with. Thank God I didn't have to play against him."

English broadcaster Henry Blofeld made a big impression on O'Neill when the pair meet during a cricket test.

He also met Australian cricketer Ken "Slasher" Mackay and West Indies great Sir Garfield Sobers in the course of his work.

"Running into guys like that and just sitting listening was incredible. You could just lose it listening to Blofeld."

O'Neill has been covering sport so long he has seen the sons and daughters of people he played with come and go and now he is watching a third generation.

"People say to me all the time, `Why are you still doing it?' Well, it is because I like it.

"On Saturday I'll go out to cricket or rugby and I'll see guys I played against and with and then I'm seeing their grandsons and granddaughters playing. That is what I love about it."

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