Jimmy O’Hara, who at 90 years of age is likely to be the oldest table tennis player in Northern Ireland, first fell in love with the sport on a homemade table in the shed of the Ballymena home he shared with 11 siblings.
In a career spanning more than 80 years, Mr O’Hara has won countless trophies and played against some of the game’s top players.
He shared the secret of his eternal youth with the News Letter: “I train three nights a week – table tennis and pilates.
“Pilates is very good for reactions and reflexes. It helps with footwork. Footwork is so important in table tennis, you have to be in the right place at the right time.
“Table tennis is a great game for keeping you active. It’s also good for your eyesight.
“I used to play a lot of golf. It was more for enjoyment than anything.
“I played a lot of tennis as well. But now the only sport I play is table tennis.”
Mr O’Hara said he started playing table tennis when he was six or seven years old: “My father was a great sportsperson. He was interested in all sports... and he was good at woodwork.
“He made a table tennis table and put it out in the shed, and that’s where we started.
“I had lots of brothers and sisters – 11 of them – we played a lot of games amongst ourselves. The standard was pretty good.
“Unfortunately there’s only one of them who is still around.”
After learning to play with his brothers and sisters Mr O’Hara joined a boys club and progressed through the ranks in Ballymena.
Mr O’Hara, who plays with Wellington Table Tennis Club based at Wellington Church in Ballymena, recalled: “There was a first division and a second division and a ladies division in Ballymena, that was back in the forties.
“Table tennis was a very popular game in Ballymena, not so popular now unfortunately. The standard of table tennis in Ballymena remains very high, but there’s not enough competitions and clubs like there used to be.”
In his hey day Mr O’Hara, who lived in London for a time, competed in local contests as well as competitions across Britain and Ireland, picking up his fair share of trophies.
He remembers a match he played against Viktor Barna, a table tennis player of joint Hungarian and British nationality who holds the record of being the mens’ singles world champion fives times.
“I gave him a good game. I learnt a lot from playing against the best players.”
The 90-year-old said: “I spent very long hours on my table tennis – working on my defence and attack, improving my game.”