Phelie Maguire has confirmed to The Hook that he has signed a contract with the World Series of Hockey, the controversial new Indian competition which tips off on December 17 and runs until January 22, 2012.
The former Three Rock man, along with 175 other players, will be included in the draft selection list from which players will be picked from to play for one of eight city-based teams.
Among the players to sign up are all of the current Indian internationals along with Australia’s Brent Livermore, Pakistan’s Rehan Butt, former Spanish captain Rodrigo Garza and Argentinian Lucas Vila.
There are also a number of players from Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand and South Korea but, despite the offer of high financial incentives, the formation of the competition has seen some of the world’s top stars stay away for this edition of the competition.
That is because the FIH have withheld official sanctioning of the competition, unsatisfied with the attempted amalgamation of Hockey India and the Indian Hockey Federation. With potential ramifications for availability for the Olympic Games in London, many players – including a couple of other current Irish internationals – have taken a cautious approach to signing up.
An amnesty of sorts was agreed for players who signed prior to April of this year with Maguire, during his time with Leuven in Belgium, among those to jump at the chance, saying “I just jumped at it. You don’t get too many chances to play in major tournaments on a big stage.”
Talk from the organisers has extolled a new dawn for hockey in the India with Indian Hockey Federation president RK Shetty saying the series will boost the national sport.
“It will certainly do wonders for our national sport. The tussle for supremacy will present intense clashes and draw fans back to the stadiums,” he said.
Harish Thawani, Executive Chairman of chief broadcaster Nimbus Communications, adds: “For the first time in hockey, these players will be financially rewarded and will have a global platform to exhibit their skills. The legacy created by the upgrade of hockey infrastructure across the country will benefit the sport of Hockey for generations to come.”
His involvement could be subject to which Olympic qualifier Ireland gets placed in and when in the spring – something which will become clearer in the coming weeks following the Pan-American Games currently taking place in Guadalajara.
To this end, included in the contract is a stipulation that the event does not take precedence over competing for a national association, meaning any clash would see Maguire available for Ireland if selected.
Barring such a hitch, it will add another colourful chapter to a career which has seen him play at Rovers and Dublin Uni before playing in the Dutch, Belgian and Australian leagues before landing at Hurley in Amsterdam in the summer to play in the Hoofdklasse.
In hockey-mad India, the WSH offers another new playing experience for the Sandyford man during a period in which he, as a non-indoor player, would be on winter break.
He told the Hook that playing in front of a possibly huge audience is a huge attraction: “It’s always your dream to play for your country first and then you develop other dreams as you get older.
“One of them was to play in India – they’re fanatical about their hockey over there. The idea of playing in a big stadium with thousands of people watching is pretty cool and something you don’t get at home.
“You get a bit of it here in Holland. But it’s not that often, even if you head to an Olympic qualifier or a European Cup. It’s also to test myself in a different environment with a sense of adventure.”
Maguire admits to taking a “leap of faith” when signing the contract but adds “from my own point of view, I can only see this as a benefit to my hockey”.
He has some experience of big crowds, notably playing in the hoofdklasse grand final with HGC against Bloemendaal in front of a crowd of 6,000 but the signs are Indian viewers will be much more abundant.
“It’s modelled to be like the Indian Premier League cricket. and they crowds are likely to be much more than that, playing for a city-based team. Let’s not kid ourselves; they are running this because they want to make money. The only way to do that is by having enough people watching to make it interesting for sponsors. To have that interest, it probably has to be relative to the championship level in English football numbers, I reckon. It’s something totally different from what we experience.”
In the meantime, he will complete the first half of the Dutch season with Hurley under the captaincy of former Wesley schoolmate Andy McConnell – the first Irishman to captain a Dutch top tier side.
Elsewhere, the FIH will take the next steps in launching its World League competition when its Executive Board meets November 11-12. At that meeting, the Executive Board will consider a detailed report from its Competitions Committee on how the new events will be run. Ireland have been included in the list of 62 male and 51 female entrants.