Meet Otso Tolonen, our Finnish dual star. A veteran Gaelic footballer from his time in Finland, Otso came along to training for the first time in August 2019. It was a small turnout during „holiday time“, and it was a hurling session. With most beginners, it can take a bit of time to get the technique right; however, after five minutes of his introduction to playing the sport, Otso was driving the sliotar half the length of the pitch. From that moment onwards, we knew we had a player on our hands!
An excellent goalkeeper in both sports, Otso’s athleticism and drive are key factors allowing him to star when he plays outfield.
- What brought you to Cologne?
I came to Cologne and Germany in the summer of 2019. Classic story, I have a German girlfriend who I met in Finland, and when she moved back, I followed her after a year or so.
- How would you describe living in Germany?
I like it a lot. Of course, with the lockdowns, you’ve missed a lot of the nice things and experiences available in Germany, but still, I like the culture and how I feel that there is a lot to do and see. Living in the heart is Europe is great because there are so many travel options and lots of different types of people and places to go to. I don’t think I’ve experienced any culture shocks after moving to Germany. I think Finnish and German people are quite similar at the end of the day.
- How did you come across the Cologne Celtics GAA Club?
I played Gaelic Football in Finland for a couple of years, and I wanted to continue here in Germany. So, I googled Gaelic Football in Cologne or something like that and got Cologne Celtics as a result. Then I messaged Stephen via Facebook if I could come to training.
- What was your experience of playing Gaelic Games before coming to Germany?
I played Gaelic football in Finland for Jyväskylä GAA and Helsinki Harps. The level of Gaelic Football, I feel, is pretty high in Finland and the Nordics, so I had some experience in that area. Before Cologne, though, I had never picked up a hurley, so that was something that was completely new though I had heard of the sport and seen it being played on TV.
- What was it like playing Gaelic football in Finland?
I liked it a lot. When I was playing for Jyväskylä GAA, there were three teams in Finland (Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Oulu). We had some good games quite regularly, and each team consisted of fun and nice guys. We also had regular Nordic championship tournaments in Helsinki, Stockholm, Mälmö, Copenhagen and Oslo, and it was a lot of fun to travel to these tournaments and play. The games were very competitive, and of high quality, I think, so you learned a lot.
- Which is your preferred sport – hurling or Gaelic Football? Why?
Difficult question. After I had only started to play hurling, I would have said Gaelic Football. Now that I’m a bit more used to hurling, I would say that Hurling is my preferred sport between the two. I like hurling because I feel like it’s much more technical than Gaelic football, and you need good hand-eye coordination to play it. I like to play with a “stick” because it reminds me partly about the time I used to play ice hockey in Finland. I also like Gaelic football in the sense that I feel that in Gaelic football games, the game situations are more carefully constructed, and you have more passing to get guys to good places to shoot. I feel that in hurling, the gameplay can be more hectic sometimes, with both teams just whacking the ball as far as possible whenever they can.
- What other sports do you play?
Next to GAA sports, I also play beach volleyball, indoor volleyball, and soccer as a goalie. Whenever I have time, I would also go to the gym or for a run or play squash or something like that.
- How does the social life aspect of a GAA club compare to those in the other sports you have been involved in?
I think the social life in the GAA sports is very unique in all the good ways possible. Comparing to the other sports that I play in Germany, I think there is quite a difference. Maybe it’s because GAA clubs are more international or that we travel to play tournaments in different cities and therefore spend much time together outside the tournaments. Nevertheless, I think there’s always excitement to play the games and then have drinks and food afterwards.
- You have played in goal in ice hockey and soccer as well as Gaelic football and hurling – do you have to be a bit mad to play in goal?
(Small correction here, Oisín – I didn’t play in goal in ice hockey). Maybe you do have to be a bit mad, haha. I like it, though. No matter the sport, playing in goal is always a bit unique, and you look at the game differently. I like the fact that I’m the last line of defense but also the one who normally opens the game for the team. It’s a bit of a lonely position, and the mistakes you make are much more obvious and potentially dangerous in a game. I guess I like that kind of pressure.
- How is your German?
Es ist okay. Es könnte besser sein aber ich kann schon ganz viele Sacher auf Deutsch machen. Die andere Hobbies, dass ich habe, ich mache auf Deutsch. Trotzem, gibt es viel zu verbessern. Since I’m planning on staying in Germany for years to come, I want to learn Germany as that’s the final thing you need for full integration. I try to challenge myself to use German in various situations and not English. Before covid, I took classes in VHS. Now that things are beginning to open up more and more, I plan to continue with classes again.
- How would you convince one of our readers who might be interested to get involved with the club?
You’ll get to do fun and challenging sports in a good group of people and expand your cultural horizons. You get to also travel in Germany and Europe and experience the craic, as they say.
- Any funny stories about life in Germany you’d like to share?
Nothing that I can share in public.