TONY Barton's been playing hockey for 26 years but he'll experience a first in the game later this month.
He'll represent NSW in the Australian over 35 championships to be played in Perth.
Barton, 38, gained selection following the State 35s titles held at Armidale where he was a member of the victorious Manning B division team. He's also the Manning River Times-Iguana Sportstar of the Week, earning a $50 open order at Iguana.
Barton expects to play as a defender or in the midfield for NSW. He says he's looking forward to the challenge.
"I've never played at that level before. It might be old man's hockey, but it should be good,'' Barton said.
NSW has already had one training run together but the remainder of the preparation will be left to when the team arrives in Perth. The championships start September 27.
Barton is confident NSW will be among the front runners.
"Western Australia will probably be the favourites, but we should be in the top two or three teams,'' he said.
The State coach has also encouraged all his players to nominate for selection in the Australian team to contest a Trans Tasman series against New Zealand in Melbourne next May. Barton rates himself a 'minimal' chance of making the team.
"But I'll give it a go,'' he added.
Barton has some more immediate goals he wants to fulfil before heading to WA. He'll captain Sharks into tomorrow's Manning first division final against Tigers, with the winner to play Chatham in the grand final.
Sharks are a largely young side who Barton said have improved as the season has progressed.
"The young blokes are starting to get more confidence and belief in themselves,'' he said.
"We've beaten Tigers a couple of times this year, so it'll be interesting to see how we go this weekend.''
He concedes that if Sharks do conquer Tigers they'll face a tough hurdle against the unbeaten Chatham.
"But if we get there you never know,'' he added.
"They only beat us 3-2 the last time we played.''
Barton came to Manning hockey from Port Macquarie in 1997. He initially played with Tigers when the club was going through one of its golden eras, winning a string of titles.
Barton then moved to Sydney with his employment and played in the premier one grade with University of NSW.
He returned to the Manning and was in the first Sharks team to play in the Mid North Coast Premier League in 2007. Sharks upset Tigers to win the league grand final the following year but Barton admits the club's had a lean run since.
"But we have some good young players in the club now,'' he said.
"If we can keep them together I don't think a premiership's too far away.''
Other than hockey Barton also dabbles in triathlons with the Forster Tri Club along with mountain biking.