Stephen Cole says that the stars finally aligned to allow him to link up with a professional club this year as he takes up a contract with Belgian club Oree.
There, he will follow his younger brother Lee who enjoyed a strong season with the Brussels-based club, taking time out from his day job.
“I have always held the ambition to play abroad in one of the top leagues at some stage in my career but the right opportunity hadn’t come about or timing hadn’t lent itself to it before now,” Cole told The Hook.
“While it was always something I had thought about, it wasn’t something I was actively seeking for this season but initial contact was made through Lee, who had a brilliant time there last season. It all lined up nicely from there.”
He says November’s World Cup was “a major factor in the decision” as the Monkstown man looks to pin down a ticket to India with the Green Machine.
Work commitments have perhaps limited him earning more caps since making his debut in 2011. He played in the 2013 European Championships in Boom but found major ranking event selection off limits until the 2017 World League Semi-Final when World Cup qualification was achieved.
And so he is looking to give himself the best possible shot at inclusion in that panel.
“With the opportunity of World Cup selection on the horizon the ability to play in one of top leagues and train full time was a big plus for me.
“Oree are in a position to allow me to commit to all the national team programme which is a luxury I haven’t always had.
“Once I finished my degree I went straight into employment and while State Street have been very accommodating over the past five years, they have had to draw the line at times too. This decision allows me to give all my energy towards becoming a better player.
“Seeing how much Lee enjoyed himself and the improvements he made as a player were huge endorsements for Oree. Obviously being able to have conversations with him about the club and anything I was unsure about was invaluable.
“I followed Oree’s progress closely last season and they had some great results and once I spoke with the club president and the coach it gave me the confidence that Oree was a good fit. Naturally it was difficult for me step away from Monkstown but I am looking forward to the challenge in Brussels.”