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Jimmy O'Hara still playing table tennis at 90

By Michael Fitzpatrick
BBC News NI North-East Reporter

media captionBallymena table tennis champ still serving it up at 90 years old

Jimmy O'Hara's lifelong love affair with the sport of table tennis began in Ballymena more than 70 years ago.

The former international recently celebrated his 90th birthday and still plays every week at the Wellington club in the County Antrim town.

As I arrive at the sports hall to interview him, a club member points out he is currently playing at a table with someone 80 years his junior.

The game finishes with O'Hara giving the younger competitor an encouraging word, and he begins to describe how he first got involved in the sport.

image captionJimmy O'Hara has just celebrated his 90th birthday

"It was my father, he made a table tennis table for us in the back garden (where) we had a shed," he said.

"He didn't give you sympathy, you had to play to win. He was very, very determined."

O'Hara, who has represented both Ireland and Northern Ireland, has played against some of the greats of the sport.

"I played against two or three of the world champions," he said.

"Viktor Barna was famous. He won 15 world titles, five singles - it was a great experience playing against him."

image captionO'Hara has represented Ireland and Northern Ireland at table tennis

"To play against the best players in the world was very encouraging, because if you went to play players that weren't as highly rated as that, it gave you that extra confidence, especially in international matches."

The big thing for O'Hara was getting picked to play for Ireland.

"In my early match, I managed to win my singles and in one of the other games I did win my singles and doubles," he recalled.

O'Hara had to give up the international scene when he moved to London for work in his early 20s, but it did not prevent him from playing the sport he loves.

"Whenever we went to London, away years ago in the 50s, we didn't know anybody, so it was a great introduction to people," he said.

"The table tennis went a long way because it was very popular in England, there were loads and loads of clubs all over London."

image captionDespite his tough love attitude, O'Hara still likes to encourage the younger players, praising them when they do well

O'Hara still competes in the odd league game when his team are short of a player.

"I should challenge some of the big boys a bit more and take them down a wee peg," he said.

"I still try to win my games even though they are just practice games, I try to win all the time, I don't like to give any points away.

"If anyone wins a point they earn it, especially the young ones."

Despite his tough-love attitude, Mr O'Hara still likes to encourage the younger players and praises them when they do well.

While he enjoys playing with the club each week, he admits he would play every day if he could.

"They don't have the clubs they used to have in Ballymena," he said.

"Because there were lots of clubs, you carried your bat in your pocket with you in case you bumped into somebody and they would like a game.

"It was very, very popular at that time; it still is, but it's a pity it's not more popular.

"The venues are not available now like they used to be."

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Related Topics

  • Ballymena
  • Elderly people

More on this story

  • Jimmy O'Hara, 90-year-old Ballymena table tennis champ