The Irish abroad: the view from Holland

Irish internationals David Harte and Mitch Darling have enjoyed a whole new world since moving to the Netherlands in the summer to continue their hockey careers in the Hoofdklasse, widely regarded as the best club league in the world.

Harte, along with twin brother Conor, moved to Bilthoven to play with SCHC where, despite a large turnover of players in the summer, they have managed four wins from nine games to date and lie in seventh place.

The goalkeeper has impressed in his time with the club, so much so that he currently is the 19th ranked played in the latest “Player-of-the-year” table.

** The two Hartes in recent derby-day action for SCHC against Kampong **

He told the Hook this week that the standard of play is not that far removed from Irish hockey but it is the higher level of attention to basic detail which set the Dutch game apart:

“People keep asking me the main difference in the playing standard compared to Dublin and each time I can say that it really isn’t that big.

“The standard of the league so far is what I expected it to be incredibly high paced and, for the majority, it’s free flowing hockey.

“Of course, there are players like the Jamie Dwyers and Teun de Nooijers that are special to this league.

“And players over here though do the small things that bit better and more frequently like trapping a bouncing ball, even the perceived worst player on a team here will trap it eight or nine times out of ten. The consistency of shooting and how clinical players are in the circle smallest of mistakes here get punished straight away.”

“The standard each Sunday, though, does compare to the speed and level of an international match which is something I know I am really enjoying.

“The difference to playing in Dublin would be a small crowd on average watching a game here would be close to 1000 people or recently our home game against Bloemendaal there were about 2500 people!”

Darling, meanwhile, moved from KHC Leuven in Belgium to Den Bosch in the Dutch midlands where he linked up with international team-mate Alan Sothern.

The front man has bagged a couple of goals with Sothern on target three times though their side is currently ninth in the standings. But Darling is more emphatic when he describes the difference in the setup in Holland.

“The way the club is run is so much more professional. We have a head coach and two assistant coaches; we train five sessions a week; eat in the club three times a week. Not to mention players having contracts with the club, club cars and houses.

“There is only one competition, the Hoofdklasse. There are no cups or anything else so you only play 22 games.

“During the season, it is very intense, training all week working towards the game on Sunday but this then affords a Winter break where we can go home and train with the national team. It also makes sense since the weather is not really conducive to playing hockey at that time, likewise in Ireland!”

Den Bosch is the biggest club in Holland with 2800 members, ensuring large crowds every Sunday and Darling reckons his side can close out the first half of the season on a high.

“After a difficult first few weeks, where results weren’t going our way, we have ground out two very important wins in our last two weekends.

“The Dutch league is known for being the best league in the world with all the top players from around the world coming here. It’s a fantastic experience for Alan and I to be playing with and against the quality that is in this league and to be able to train as full-time athletes with the schedule for the international summer in mind.”

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