Passing of Irene Keating

Irene Keating - who has passed away in Wellington - has been hailed as a "a great team player'' and "an important part of the New Zealand women's team'' throughout the 1970s.

Born in 1951, Irene Keating (nee Gibb) played for New Zealand at the 1970, 1974 and 1978 world championships.
She was the youngest player, aged 19, in the New Zealand squad at Osaka in 1970, pitching alongside Hawke's Bay's Libby Bowles and Auckland's Yvonne Holton.

However, by 1970, Irene already had seven years of premier softball behind her.

Irene Gibb initially played for Titahi Bay for four seasons from the age of 13, before moving to Porirua and then joining Broadway, under New Zealand coach Harry Atkin.

At the 1974 world championships in Stratford, Connecticut, Irene shared the pitching with Bowles and Auckland teenager Cheryl Kemp. She started some games, but was also used to relieve Cheryl in the latter innings on some occasions. Irene also showed some prowess as a hitter, batting 1.000 (two hits from two at-bats) in a 6-4 win over South Africa.

Irene's crowning glory as an international softballer came in El Salvador in 1978 when the New Zealand women's team collected their first medal at a world championships, picking up the bronze, behind the United States and Canada.

She was joined on the New Zealand pitching staff by her Wellington provincial teammate Carol Meihana and Otago's Ellie Mockford. Carol got the ball for the bronze medal match win against Chinese Taipei, but Irene's experience was integral to New Zealand's tournament success.

New Zealand coach Ed Dolejs commented in his 2011 biography, Diamonds In The Sun, that "three of our most experienced players, Marilyn Marshall, Irene Keating and Linda Hawthorn, who had played at world series before, were absolutely elated to lose by only one run to the United States'' in El Salvador.

Irene was a star on the domestic softball scene for close to 15 years and an integral part of why Broadway came to be regarded as one of New Zealand's leading club teams.

She was still a teenager when she pitched Broadway to the 1969 Dustin Cup interclub title, and she was a Dustin Cup winner again in 1972, 1975 and 1978.

Irene first pitched for the Wellington representative team as a 14-year-old and was a vital part of their 1972, 1975 and 1978 Bensel Cup national championship winning teams.

She had the honour of doing the domestic double (Bensel Cup provincial and Dustin Cup interclub) three times, in 1972, 1975 and 1978.

Irene was the New Zealand women's player of the year in 1975 after pitching Wellington to the Bensel Cup and Broadway to the Dustin Cup title in Dunedin, where she had an earned run average of 0.56 as Broadway won all eight games.

Her pitching earned her the admiration of international opponents. In April 1972, she declined an offer to move to USA to paly for Phoenix Westerners, Arizona.

Former New Zealand captain Marie Ward played many seasons with Irene at club, provincial and international level.

She remembers Irene as "an an important part of Broadway and Wellington Softball over many years''.

"With Irene on the mound Broadway and Wellington were successful for many seasons in both local and national competitions. She was an important part of the New Zealand team for almost a decade, pitching in three World Series.

"Although Irene started playing top softball as a very young player her temperament allowed her to compete at the highest level right from the start.

"Irene was a great team player who got a great deal of enjoyment from the game.''