Kevin Opele 190714 JJ 029 Rugby RefereeMid Canterbury referee Kevin Opele has blown the whistle on thousands of games covering different codes and different sports. Photo Joseph JohnsonMid Canterbury rugby referee Kevin Opele quietly celebrated a 150 senior match milestone recently.

Opele, 40, has actually refereed double that number if you take into account games at tournaments and other levels.

He also has 3000-plus touch rugby games under his belt, including more than 100 internationals, as well as 122 netball games.

He has refereed four of the last five Watters Cup finals and was Mid Canterbury Rugby’s busiest referee last season.

He was also named Official of the Year at the recent Mid Canterbury Sports Awards.

This year he is dividing his time between senior rugby and netball, with no thoughts of putting the whistle away, despite the commitment needed to stay physically fit and abreast of all the rule changes across both sports.

Opele started refereeing touch in 2001, officiating at national and international matches, then took up refereeing rugby league and rugby matches.

It’s been by and large a rewarding experience, though twice he has needed a police escort to leave the field – the second time was a match where the players and spectators had gang affiliations.

“I do it for the enjoyment of being in the thick of it and seeing some pretty epic skills from amazing athletes, but it’s also a great sense of achievement knowing that you’ve contributed to making it a good game.

“It is quite a lonely place sometimes as an official as you’re not in a team any more and you just have to accept that 50 per cent are going to love how you did and the other half will think you’re a right idiot who doesn’t know the rules or needs glasses.

“I’ve been threatened to be killed during a game, so nothing really surprises me now with how much people get involved in the game.”

He said he generally didn’t hear comments from spectators, but often they were around rules of the game that no longer existed.

“So many people think we have favourites, but we don’t. We don’t care who wins or loses.

“The skills you see on TV or at rep level mean that the game is controlled differently.

“We can’t impose the same rules here as players simply don’t have the skillset to do it.”

Opele said verbal abuse came with the territory, though referees spent time talking with team leaders and coaches about rule interpretations and expected behaviour.

Good captains kept their players under control and kept their cool talking to match officials.

“Good captains make good teams.

“Eric Duff (Southern) would be the best captain in Mid Canterbury – he understands pressure and he knows when to talk.”

Opele said there was more opportunity in rugby than netball to chat to players about their play to eliminate stoppages by the whistle.

There was always banter with halfbacks, usually the most talkative players on the paddock.

His least favourite games are at youth level, where parents often had poor knowledge of the rules and shouted abuse at the referee.

This only encouraged young people to think talking to a match official that way was okay.

Opele said there had been many positive highlights though over his long career that made the hours of training worthwhile.

He remembers the thrill of hearing the New Zealand anthem played before a touch test match between Australia and New Zealand in Australia in 2009; Australia won then 12-11 in extra time.

He also remembers his first class debut as a rugby referee, which was a game between the Thames Swamp Foxes and Buller in August 2013.

Opele was selected into a national referee training squad that year, but had to withdraw because of work.

“I see the guys who were in that squad now doing international games, so you always wonder if that could have been me.”

Opele said referees’ contributions to their sport often lasted much longer than a player’s, yet they were rarely recognised.

“So before you decide to shout out some passionate message to an official, just remember no-one’s getting paid here, we’re all doing it for the love of sport.​”

By Linda Clarke © The Ashburton Guardian - 18 May 2018

sophie adamsAshburton College’s Sophie Adams scored 49 points in her team’s win over Cashmere. Photo supplied.Ashburton College’s senior girls’ basketball side defied the odds to beat Cashmere High School in Canterbury secondary school basketball’s Whelan Trophy in Christchurch on Tuesday night.

Seeded last in this year’s competition, the college girls headed into the competition determined to finish higher than their seeding and after two games were one from two.

They bounced back well from their first-round loss to Christchurch Girls’ High School to beat Cashmere 94-63 and coach Mark Douglas couldn’t have been happier with the spirit his young side showed.

“We played them (Cashmere) pre-season and it was a bit closer than that so it was good to have a hitout and get the W,” Douglas said. “It was targeted as one of the teams we should beat so we were confident without being cocky, but that’s part of the learning, playing with confidence.”

The odds weren’t in their favour. Cashmere were seeded higher and Ashburton College’s bench resembled a hospital ward at one point, Douglas said.

He had one player with a sore leg, one on crutches, one who was sick and another who’d received a knock to the head. But the team rallied.

Douglas said he’d wanted them to work on their discipline and reduce the number of silly fouls they gave away, to ensure they had everyone available towards the end. There were a few early indiscretions, but the college girls produced a much better second half, Douglas said.

Sophie Adams was in top form with a personal tally of 49 points, but Douglas said had it not been for the hard work of her team-mates across the court, Adams wouldn’t have been in a position to shoot those goals.

“Our biggest learning we talked about from the first game was our turnovers, because we turned over a lot of ball, but we made good progress in one week,” Douglas said.

They’d need to keep improving, too, with one of the competition’s top four sides – Rangi Ruru – their next opposition.

It would be a big night at the Oxford Street basketball stadium in Ashburton on Tuesday, with the Ashburton College senior boys also having a home game against Rangiora New Life School.

The college boys had the bye in the first round of their Thomson Trophy competition, so had their first hitout this week. Despite also struggling with injuries and sickness, the boys also notched up a win, beating Linwood College 84-73.

By Erin Tasker © The Ashburton Guardian - 17 May 2018

Sarah OReilly 2In the largely male dominated field of harness racing, one young Mid Canterbury lady is helping the girls knock the mantra. Sarah O’Reilly is still very much in the infancy of her career sitting in the sulky, but she’s making big strides and turning heads at every corner. Matt Markham spoke to her about beating the boys and shaking her quiet demeanour to bring forward some aggression on the track. Photo supplied.In horse racing the term bloodlines are often used as a measure of potential ability and in the case of Sarah O’Reilly, hers are impeccable.

A third generation member of one of Mid Canterbury’s most successful harness racing families, she’s got the double-edged sword of having all the experience in the world to call on from her extended family, but also the added pressure of having to live up to the family name.

And for a quietly spoken young teenager, who is still finding her feet in the hustle and bustle of the racing world, that’s a tough challenge, but one the former Ashburton College student is relishing.

She’s already on the board, having driven her first race day winner earlier this year – a moment that will sit with her for the rest of her life as a career highlight, but the desire and hunger for more success is like a drug in this highly competitive sport and O’Reilly’s keen to keep the success levels up.

“Driving winners is the ultimate goal.

“It’s tough – but it’s so rewarding when you get one,” she said.

“It’s probably quite hard to explain the feeling of winning a race.

“It’s a huge adrenalin rush and a bit of an emotional experience at the same time.”

Harness racing has been pretty much all that O’Reilly has known, and all she’s ever wanted to do – a very familiar trait throughout the industry for children and grandchildren who are almost bound to follow in the footsteps of famous forebears.

She’s now working full time in a harness racing stable near Christchurch and can be seen most weeks out on the track, plying her trade – which is exactly what she harboured dreams of doing when she was growing up.

“It started with the family involvement, and just sort of grew from there.

“I’ve been going to the races since I was young and always enjoyed working with them at home and learning more and more about them.”

O’Reilly’s father is Gerard O’Reilly – one of Mid Canterbury’s finest horsemen – so the wealth of knowledge from which she has been able to draw from has never been an issue, especially when her uncles, Leo, Kerry and Patrick are also hugely successful in the industry as well.

But it’s Dad who holds the special spot as mentor, in a fashion in which only a father and daughter will know.

“I look up to him,” Sarah said frankly.

“He has really taught me everything I know, and given me the foundation on which to hopefully build on.

“He’s my biggest fan I think, but probably also my biggest critic.”

While family support is great, it can only go so far and so O’Reilly has had to reach out further in the industry to find others to learn as much off as she can and who better to guide a young female in the sport, than one of the best of them ever.

Former Geraldine girl, Samantha Ottley, has taken up a mentor role with O’Reilly – helping her learn a few more of the ropes and to guide her through her driving out on the track – the relatable nature of it, and Ottley’s experience, is hard to put a value on.

“I always looked up to Sam, and the way that she approaches things, so to have her as my mentor is something I’m really thankful for.

“She’s out there showing the boys how to do it most weeks, so to be able to call on that experience and knowledge is really important for me if I want to keep getting better.”

O’Reilly is one of a number of female horsewomen in the industry who are leading the charge and shifting the perception that it’s a males’ sport.

Female participants make up a large percentage of the industry’s numbers and they are continuing to grow too – with female names appearing more and more in the winners’ lists as drivers, trainers and owners.

“There are more and more coming through the ranks which is really good – it’s nice to be a part of.”

With things ticking along nicely at the moment, O’Reilly’s goals for the future are quite simple – win more races and continue the O’Reilly family legacy.

“One day I want to be a trainer to carry the family colours through for another generation.

“But it is also a goal to win a race for my uncles too, that would be really awesome.”

And with the dedication and drive this young Mid Canterbury lass is already showing, you’d be silly to bet against it not happening.

By Matt Markham © The Ashburton Guardian - 16 May 2018