As a record 92 teams prepare for next week’s Vantage National Masters in Tauranga, North Harbour’s Brent Miller tells us why he’s still playing 64 years after he first picked up a stick and why he jokingly admits he’s still ultra-competitive.
While most Aucklanders are hitting the motorways in early morning rush hour traffic, a group of keen hockey players are hitting the turf at the new National Hockey Centre in Albany.
You might think it’d only be our Vantage Black Sticks eager to get on the turf so early in the day, but there’s certainly no lack of competitiveness or ability among these players.
Affectionately known as the Miller Club – named after North Harbour and Takapuna Life Member Brent Miller – the group of Masters-aged players meets at 8am on Tuesdays and Fridays for a hit round. This week there’s a real spring in their step with the Vantage National Masters tournament just days away.
“Some days there’ll be 20-odd of us and we just like to have a run around and play a bit of 7-a-side,” says Miller.
“There’s no hitting, just pushing – and we’re all trying hard not to be ultra-competitive.”
Having blown out 70 birthday candles a few years ago, Miller will be one of the more mature of around 1500 participants registered for this year’s National Masters starting on Sunday in Tauranga. He hasn’t missed a National Masters since he first caught the Masters bug in 1999.
Those who know Brent describe him as one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, until you put a stick in his hand.
“I’m not sure I even like myself at times”, he jokes about the Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation when he walks on to the turf.
And it is likely to be Canterbury on the opposite end of that competitiveness, having pipped Miller’s North Harbour team in the shootout in last year’s 65s final after several close battles over the years.
Miller is living proof that hockey is a sport for life. He started the sport at 10, dropped his other love cricket at the age of 21, and has been playing in the fullback position ever since.
“I’ve been reasonably lucky with injury. Everyone else seems to have had hip and knee replacements but I’ve been fortunate.”
Miller has also played in numerous New Zealand Masters sides, with a bronze medal in Newcastle in 2016 the highlight in the black strip.
So what’s kept him in the game so long?
“It’s the camaraderie isn’t it, and the travel and the fact everyone just really enjoys it.”
Three generations of the Miller family now play the sport with his two daughters having joined their father in the Masters ranks.
Off the turf there isn’t much Miller hasn’t achieved. It speaks volumes when an actual turf is named after you – the Miller 3 turf at the new National Hockey Centre where the Miller Club trains bears his family’s name. The long-term volunteer has also been on the North Harbour Hockey Board, the Harbour Hockey Charitable Trust and the National Hockey Centre Governance Group.
But where he’s happiest is on Tuesday and Friday mornings having a hit round with his mates. Hockey really is for life for this master of the game.
VANTAGE NATIONAL MASTERS
The 23rd edition of the National Masters is being hosted by Tauranga Hockey from 28 February to 6 March. With a record 92 teams entered, plenty of former Black Sticks in action and a decent crop of players in their seventies, this year’s event promises to be a great spectacle.
Check out the tournament draw and results here.