Shane O’Donghue has been dreaming of playing top level hockey since he could hold a stick, writes Jack McCann, and now he is a step closer to fulfilling his ambition having agreed to play for KHC Dragons next season along with fellow Irish international Kyle Good.
“Ever since I was little I wanted to play at the top level,” he said. “Remembering Stephen [Butler], Graham [Shaw] and Joe [Brennan] going to Dragons made it a dream and desire for me.”“It all started playing EHL with Glenanne; that really exposed me to the possible opportunity of having a contract abroad and playing EHL gave me a taste of what a top European club is all about.”
O’Donoghue had been approached by other clubs like Eindhoven’s Oranje Zwart before Dragons came knocking a couple of seasons ago. They asked if he would play for them in the 2012/13 season but he wanted to “finish out my degree and make sure that I got my university side of things sorted” before thinking about playing professional hockey.
He told them to come back to him when he was finished if they still wanted him which they did and back in February when negotiations started up again.
While Crefeld HTC were also in the mix, he decided to join Dragons due to a “combination of knowing the Irish guys had gone over there and really really enjoyed it” and seeing “how successful Dragons are in recent times”.
Indeed, he was very flattered for Dragons to show continued interest. “It really show that they wanted me. The big thing was no matter where I was going, I wanted to go with somebody and I knew Kyle was keen and had the same desire and ambitions as myself.”
Dragons liked what they saw in the video clips they watched and when he Good also got offered a contract, it made O’Donoghue’s decision “an awful lot easier” and was happy to pick Belguim as the venue to play professional hockey for the first time.
“Its only being positive remarks about Dragons. It’s a real family club, they really go out of their way to look after you and make sure you really enjoy the experience. Belguim seemed more attractive with the hockey they play and how far they’ve come in recent years with the set up of their league.”
Dragons, bronze medalists in the recently EHL in Eindhoven and medal winners in the previous two EHL tournaments finished second behind Waterloo Ducks this term in the league.
Entering this environment will be tough but O’Donoghue is looking forward to playing with the likes of Felix Denayer, Jeffrey Thys and Florent Van Aubel. “It’s only going to improve my game and that’s my aim; to go over and being in that environment, it would be very difficult not to improve your game which will hopefully benefit the Irish team”.
He moves to Belgium after three years with UCD in which the side has broken a lot of new ground especially with much improved scholarships available. It has seen them rise to top four finishes in the Leinster league while they reached a first ever Mills Cup final, albeit missing out on the title to Three Rock Rovers.Talking about his experience of the Ad Astra Elite Scholarship scheme in UCD, he had nothing but praise: “I’ve been lucky to have three years in the academy. It was a decision that took a while to come to when I was doing my Leaving Cert.
“But I definitely wouldn’t look back, it was three fantastic years. The amount of support you got on and off the field was incredible and it can’t be replicated anywhere else in the country. I would have to say that UCD is one of the main reasons why I’m where I am today; I thouroughly enjoyed it.”
When interviewed at the start of the season for the University Observer, O’Donoghue said UCD’s ambitions were to “win the IHL and the Irish Senior Cup or to go as far in them as we can”.
Talking about those self-set goals by the team, he said: “I suppose we didn’t really achieve those; we achieved IHL status for next year which was really satisfying to see where it’s going. We lost a couple of key individuals at the start of the season and over Christmas; that was a big blow to the squad with the injuries. We gave it our all and are proud with how we did but we weren’t overly satisfied not to achieve any kind of sliverware this season. Getting to the Mills Cup final was a big achievement.”
His final exams have meant limited involvement during the first few months of Craig Fulton’s reign as Irish men’s coach but he bounced back with three goals at last week’s Four Nations tournament in Barcelona.
“Missing Malaysia [the Champions Challenge I] was disappointing but I am really looking forward to the coming weeks and months with Craig and the guys. Last week was thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view.
“Wales and Russia were competitive games but, from Ireland’s point of view, the big tester was the game against Spain. We’re just getting to know how Neddy [Fulton]wants us to play; we’ve adapted to his game style quite quickly and it’s an attractive style of hockey that he wants to play.
“We want to be playing the highest ranked sides possible. Its only going to benefit us playing more international games together and thats the big thing that we’ve kind of struggled with over the years, trying to get more games against teams ranked higher than us to get the building blocks started now heading towards Rio [Olmypics in 2016].
‘But I am really excited to start the next chapter of my life with Dragons, fantastic for both of us and we’re really looking forward to it.”