Why hawk-eyed officer not about to drop hockey stick
HOCKEY By Washington Onyango | July 26th 2020
Very few sportsmen or women have been able to perform at the top level for long while balancing between two jobs.
However, for Police Constable Willis Okeyo, he has made a name for himself off and on the pitch in an astonishing hockey career spanning 21 and in service for his country.
And as he nears the end of his career with former champions Kenya Police Hockey Club, Okeyo who is more popular as a player than as an officer believes he still has more to offer.
"My relationship with my fellow players both at the club and national team is great. Some of them don't even know that I am a police officer," Okeyo said during an interview with Standard Sports.
"To be at the top of my game and to serve my country well for the last 21 years has not been an easy task. For me, hockey time is hockey and during work time I strive to get the best out of myself as a police officer just as in hockey."
Famed for his tactical awareness and intelligent reading of the game, Okeyo is also a play-maker of repute always pulling the strings from inside his own half while backing it up efficient passing of the ball.
Unlike most of his teammates, however, Okeyo does his job rather quietly.
He has seen it all and won it all in his two decades of playing professional hockey both locally and internationally.
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The 36-year-old midfielder has won four Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Premier League titles, three Vaisakhi Cup, Sikh Union Astroturf tournament and guided Police to runners up position in the African Cup of Club Championship tournament in Nairobi in 2018.
He was crowned the Most Valuable Player in Bangladesh Premier League when he helped his side Dhaka Mariners win their maiden trophy in 2015 and finished as KHU Premier League top scorer in 2016.
A dynamic and disciplined player known for his relentless energy and ball-winning abilities as a deep-lying midfielder, Okeyo believes he still has the energy to play for two or three more seasons.
“I grew up learning never to give up. I am in love with the game and I am ready to give it a few more runs,” he said.
Furthermore, Okeyo says visiting Germany twice in May and September last year for a one-month playing stint with Stuttgart Hockey Club renewed his hunger to play.
“The Germany stint was inspiring. Despite my age, I can’t believe the energy flowing through me right now because of the experience I had over there and I can’t wait to play again,” said Okeyo.
‘Awilo’ as he is fondly known in hockey circles, started playing the sport at Kisumu Boys High School between 1999, guiding the institution to a third-place finish in Kenya Secondary School Games in his final year in 2001.
He went on to play for Eldoret Polytechnic between 2002-2003 after enrolling to study pharmacy.
Five years later, he joined Police in 2008 and in the same year volunteered to coach USIU (men and women) in 2009/2010 while serving Police as a player, guiding the men's team to the premier league.
“It was not a stroll in the park because I had to balance between performing for my club and coaching USIU in the national league, but I am happier we achieved something positive.”
His first call up to the national team for the Embakasi-based officer came in 2013 during the Olympic qualifiers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, as Kenya finished fourth.
Since then, he has been a consistent and dominant force in the side with his last outing coming last year during the Olympic qualifiers in South Africa.
In 2015, he featured for Dhaka Mariners, inspiring them to their maiden Bangladesh Premier League title as well as being voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Okeyo, who has been coaching the USIU Ladies team since 2017, has transformed the team from the comforts of mid-table experience to title contenders.
He has led his students to both the Kenya Universities Sports Association (KUSA) Nairobi Conference games and East Africa University games’ hockey titles three times in a row.
He was at his best again as Spartans finished fourth at the Africa Cup of Club Championship Trophy in 2018 and were ranked the best hockey university team on the continent.
He takes pride in scoring against South Africa during his international debut in 2013, a moment he treasures most in his career.
“It was magical to score at such a big stage during my first outing and to cap it off with another win against Ghana was just fantastic,” he said joyfully.
Even as he continues to gain recognition locally and internationally, he has his eyes set on coaching roles both at club level and the national team.
“Hockey has built the man in me and it will be fair for me to give more even after retiring and my goal is to nurture and coach other players,” he added.