149 Test Matches in the green and gold combined in both Indoor and Outdoor Hockey and never missing a beat for South Africa, Jessica O’Connor has called time on an impressive career.
In an international career that spanned a decade, one of her stand out moments is when she led her country in a bronze medal match at the FIH Hockey World Cup on home soil.
That remarkable moment marked South Africa’s maiden semi-final berth, also the first time an African nation reached that stage of indoor hockey’s extravaganza. O’Connor made her debut in April of 2014.
The World Cup that took Pretoria by storm was her second after the 2015 World Cup. The versatile leader earned 17 caps for the outdoor side to conclude her career with 149 caps.
Known as one of the best tacklers on the world stage, she played against 20 different countries and scored 42 goals, an impressive feat for a defender. Those figures place her in the top 5 goal scorers of all time for the country.
Former SA Hockey Head Coach Lennie Both, who oversaw all 132 tests of Jess O’Connor’s career paid a heart-felt tribute to her:
“It was an incredible journey with Jess throughout her international career. I was fortunate to have a front row seat and it was an enjoyable ride. From her debut back in 2014 through 132 consecutive test matches Jess established herself as one of the best indoor hockey defenders in the world, with a characteristic tackle that was second to none.
SA Hockey Interim CEO Shaune Baaitjies captures the impact Jess had on the her teammates and Hockey SA: “Jess, your unwavering commitment to Indoor has left an indelible mark not only on the team but on the entire SA Hockey population and beyond.
“You have made history as the most capped indoor player in the country and as the captain who took your team to 4th place in the first World cup outside Europe which was also a first for South Africa and all these are remarkable achievements. Your ability to bring out the best in your teammates is testament to your exceptional captaincy and all these are nothing short of inspirational.”
“Your retirement marks the end of an era, but it also signals a new chapter in your life. I have no doubt that whatever path you choose to embark upon, you will approach it with the same dedication and determination that made you a legend on the Indoor field. As you step away from international competition, please know that your legacy will continue to inspire future generations of hockey players.”
On behalf of SA Hockey, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude for your years of service to the sport and the country. We wish you all the happiness and success in your future endeavours.”
As she takes a bow as the most capped indoor hockey player on the continent, Lonwabo Nkohla caught up with this incredible ambassador for South Africa.
Congratulations on a wonderful career. How hard was it to come to this decision?
It was really tough and quite an emotional decision! Indoor hockey has been such a big part of my life and there is no doubt that all the highs and lows that come with it has shaped the person I am today. I will miss the game I have such passion for BUT mostly I will miss all the incredible people I met along the way in my hockey career, especially my teammates ❤️
When you reflect on your time with the SA women’s indoor hockey team, what stands out as your main highlights?
Definitely the 2022 World Cup in South Africa, and not just because we did so well. The team was in such a good space; everyone was on the same page, working towards the same goal. I am exceptionally proud to have been a part of that team.
How did you deal with challenges that came your way?
I leant on my family, friends and team mates. The people around me always gave me so much support, advice and comfort. I am so grateful that I had such incredible people to rely on throughout my career.
What is needed to ensure that women’s indoor hockey is better celebrated?
I think exposure to the game in South Africa would definitely help Women’s indoor hockey be better celebrated, it would help with growth not only for the ladies’ team – but for the men’s team as well.
The team recently won a ministerial award on the Momentum gsport Awards stage. What does this accolade mean to you and the team?
We feel very grateful and privileged to be recognised for all the hard work we have put in over the years means so much to us. This group of ladies was together as a team for a while before we took part in the World Cup, so to be acknowledged for all the hard work and dedication makes myself and the team extremely proud.
What does the future hold for you?
I’d like to focus on myself for a while, take part in activities that I haven’t been able to take part in while I’ve been playing indoor.
Who are your role models in sport?
I don’t think I have a standout “role model”. I have always appreciated and looked up to a style of play. I love good hockey, connections and vision. The Dutch style of play – small passes, moving for each other, setting each other up – I’ve always admired them for this. So, during the World Cup when we played them, and after the game they said it was one of the toughest games they’ve had in a long time – it was a special moment for me.
What makes a good leader, and how can young leaders rise up in the world of sport?
I think a good leader pays attention to the people around them, celebrates their successes and helps them through their tough times. I think young leaders can rise up in the world of sport by putting the team before themselves and working hard to celebrate the small victories as well as the big victories together.
What is your advice to young players looking to make their way in indoor hockey?
I think a good starting point would be to make sure that they’re part of a club as well as a team at school – the more practice they’re getting the better they’ll become. Ask questions, don’t be afraid to fail and learn new skills every chance you get.
Photo 1 Caption: After an impactful career that spans a decade, with 132 indoor caps and 17 indoor, leading South Africa to the semi-finals of the 2023 Indoor Hockey World Cup, iconic hockey international Jessica O’Connor has decided to hang her stick. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: SA’s most-capped indoor hockey international Jessica O’Connor calls time on an illustrious career that saw her represent the national against 20 countries. Photo: Supplied