A comeback for the ages

A MAN AND HIS MALLET: New Zealand croquet representative and former world champion Joe Hogan with his trusty mallet. He is part of the team who will defend the MacRobertson Shield at a tournament in Palm Springs, California, this month. Picture by Paul Rickard

JOE Hogan says he is amazed to be here.

“Here” for Hogan this weekend is likely to be somewhere between Gisborne and Palm Springs, where he will line up for New Zealand in the MacRobertson Shield croquet tournament this month.

But he means “here” in the sense of being above ground.

Last October he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is grateful for the speed with which his case was referred first to Gisborne Hospital and then to Waikato Hospital.

“On a Saturday in January I was at the croquet nationals, and on the Monday my wife Robyn and I were heading to Hamilton for my first procedure a day later,” Hogan said.

“Two weeks after that I had my second procedure.

“It’s high-dose radiation through the insertion of radioactive seeds in the prostate. I won’t know the outcome till May. The cancer has been caught early and I’ve done all I can.

“I missed the New Zealand men’s singles championships in Dannevirke in February, but I went to the top-eight tournament in Wellington four weeks ago ranked sixth and finished the round-robin ranked third.”

Hogan, 58, is in the midst of a croquet comeback for the ages. He last played for New Zealand in 1994 — a transtasman event in Christchurch where New Zealand beat Australia.

That year, Robyn gave birth to Sam, the eldest of Joe and Robyn’s three children (the others being Mary and Matthew), and Hogan gave up team events to be around for his family.

Apart from a few wild-card entries, he stayed away from the croquet courts.

Then early in 2015 one of the New Zealand selectors rang him to ask if he would consider returning to the croquet circuit and, if he was still good enough, be available for selection.

After getting his family’s blessing, he embarked on a comeback that, by September last year, convinced the selectors he should be in the team to defend the MacRobertson Shield in the United States.

New Zealand broke Great Britain’s 24-year hold on the Shield, encompassing seven series wins, when the competition was held in New Zealand in December-January, 2013-14.

As a 21-year-old, Hogan had made the New Zealand team that won the MacRobertson Shield in 1979. He played in the 1982 series, and in 1986 he helped win the Shield again. He played his most recent Shield game in 1990. He could not go to the 1993 series because of work commitments.

Palm Springs match

When he takes the court in Palm Springs for his first game in the competition this month, it will have been 27 years since his last MacRobertson Shield game — understood to be the longest break between Shield appearances by any player.

But Joe Hogan is not just any player. He was the inaugural world singles champion in 1989. He has won three New Zealand Open singles titles, 10 national doubles titles (nine of them with Auckland’s Bob Jackson), two British Open singles titles and one British Open doubles title (with Jackson).

He was introduced to the game as a teenager in 1972 by Barry Memorial Croquet Club stalwarts Bill and Betty Hunter, and nurtured by Rua and Phyllis Clarke.

He practises with a hoop in his back yard, but says simply: “God made me good at croquet”.

Joe Hogan was already a nationally recognised croquet player when he was ordained a Catholic priest, but after a year he realised the life was not for him.

He has remained a committed Catholic and last September applied for a job with the Diocese of Hamilton as a family life “animator”, supporting marriage and family.

“I enjoyed my work as a carpenter, but when I saw the advertisement for this job I felt it was my calling,” Hogan said.

“In all sorts of ways, this has been a period of change.

“In Palm Springs we’ll be up against it. Of the six players selected, three have had to pull out. New Zealand croquet is in a rebuilding phase but we’ll do all we can to hold our ground.”

The MacRobertson Shield is the croquet world’s premier teams tournament. It was established by Australian confectionary maker, philanthropist and croquet enthusiast Sir Macpherson Robertson as a tournament of croquet “tests” between England and Australia.

England won the inaugural tournament, which they hosted in 1925. England (or Great Britain, or Great Britain and Ireland) have dominated the honours. Of 21 tournaments, they have won 14.

Australia won consecutive tournaments in 1927-28, 1930 and 1935, but have not won since.

New Zealand, who joined the tournament in 1930, have won four times: in 1950-51, 1979, 1986 and 2013-14.
The United States have taken part in the tournament since 1993 but have yet to win it.

Play is in round-robin format, each test comprising 21 matches — nine doubles and 12 singles — with each match being decided on a best-of-three-game basis. The doubles are played over three days and the singles, over two.

With each team playing every other team, players will be on the courts a total of 15 days. It is physically and mentally demanding . . . and they love it.

JOE Hogan says he is amazed to be here.

“Here” for Hogan this weekend is likely to be somewhere between Gisborne and Palm Springs, where he will line up for New Zealand in the MacRobertson Shield croquet tournament this month.

But he means “here” in the sense of being above ground.

Last October he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is grateful for the speed with which his case was referred first to Gisborne Hospital and then to Waikato Hospital.

“On a Saturday in January I was at the croquet nationals, and on the Monday my wife Robyn and I were heading to Hamilton for my first procedure a day later,” Hogan said.

“Two weeks after that I had my second procedure.

“It’s high-dose radiation through the insertion of radioactive seeds in the prostate. I won’t know the outcome till May. The cancer has been caught early and I’ve done all I can.

“I missed the New Zealand men’s singles championships in Dannevirke in February, but I went to the top-eight tournament in Wellington four weeks ago ranked sixth and finished the round-robin ranked third.”

Hogan, 58, is in the midst of a croquet comeback for the ages. He last played for New Zealand in 1994 — a transtasman event in Christchurch where New Zealand beat Australia.

That year, Robyn gave birth to Sam, the eldest of Joe and Robyn’s three children (the others being Mary and Matthew), and Hogan gave up team events to be around for his family.

Apart from a few wild-card entries, he stayed away from the croquet courts.

Then early in 2015 one of the New Zealand selectors rang him to ask if he would consider returning to the croquet circuit and, if he was still good enough, be available for selection.

After getting his family’s blessing, he embarked on a comeback that, by September last year, convinced the selectors he should be in the team to defend the MacRobertson Shield in the United States.

New Zealand broke Great Britain’s 24-year hold on the Shield, encompassing seven series wins, when the competition was held in New Zealand in December-January, 2013-14.

As a 21-year-old, Hogan had made the New Zealand team that won the MacRobertson Shield in 1979. He played in the 1982 series, and in 1986 he helped win the Shield again. He played his most recent Shield game in 1990. He could not go to the 1993 series because of work commitments.

Palm Springs match

When he takes the court in Palm Springs for his first game in the competition this month, it will have been 27 years since his last MacRobertson Shield game — understood to be the longest break between Shield appearances by any player.

But Joe Hogan is not just any player. He was the inaugural world singles champion in 1989. He has won three New Zealand Open singles titles, 10 national doubles titles (nine of them with Auckland’s Bob Jackson), two British Open singles titles and one British Open doubles title (with Jackson).

He was introduced to the game as a teenager in 1972 by Barry Memorial Croquet Club stalwarts Bill and Betty Hunter, and nurtured by Rua and Phyllis Clarke.

He practises with a hoop in his back yard, but says simply: “God made me good at croquet”.

Joe Hogan was already a nationally recognised croquet player when he was ordained a Catholic priest, but after a year he realised the life was not for him.

He has remained a committed Catholic and last September applied for a job with the Diocese of Hamilton as a family life “animator”, supporting marriage and family.

“I enjoyed my work as a carpenter, but when I saw the advertisement for this job I felt it was my calling,” Hogan said.

“In all sorts of ways, this has been a period of change.

“In Palm Springs we’ll be up against it. Of the six players selected, three have had to pull out. New Zealand croquet is in a rebuilding phase but we’ll do all we can to hold our ground.”

The MacRobertson Shield is the croquet world’s premier teams tournament. It was established by Australian confectionary maker, philanthropist and croquet enthusiast Sir Macpherson Robertson as a tournament of croquet “tests” between England and Australia.

England won the inaugural tournament, which they hosted in 1925. England (or Great Britain, or Great Britain and Ireland) have dominated the honours. Of 21 tournaments, they have won 14.

Australia won consecutive tournaments in 1927-28, 1930 and 1935, but have not won since.

New Zealand, who joined the tournament in 1930, have won four times: in 1950-51, 1979, 1986 and 2013-14.
The United States have taken part in the tournament since 1993 but have yet to win it.

Play is in round-robin format, each test comprising 21 matches — nine doubles and 12 singles — with each match being decided on a best-of-three-game basis. The doubles are played over three days and the singles, over two.

With each team playing every other team, players will be on the courts a total of 15 days. It is physically and mentally demanding . . . and they love it.

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