Pembroke’s Alan Sothern and Cork C of I’s Julian Dale have joined the rapidly growing cohort of Irish senior men’s internationals who will play their hockey professionally on the continent next season.
Dale will join Brussels club Royal Daring where he will link up with coach John Bessell who has been working with the Green Machine as an assistant for the past few months.
“I’m excited because its full-time hockey,” Dale told the Hook. “I’ll be getting good guidance as well as playing alongside two ex-Australian internationals Eli Matheson and Glenn Simpson. The goal is to improve and basically go from being a fringe player to a result with the senior team through my time in Belgium.”
Dale recently finished an ordinary degree in recreation and leisure management and plans to go back in due course to upgrade it to an honours degree.
Sothern, meanwhile, goes to the rising force that is La Gantoise, following Stephen Cole (Oree), Shane O’Donoghue and Kirk Shimmins (both Dragons) this summer.
It continues the wholesale moves away from domestic competition, something that the introduction of the EY Hockey League was supposed to counteract in Ireland.
But until either Hockey Ireland can offer centralised contracts or clubs can afford to pay players, going to the big leagues in Europe remains the avenue to play hockey on a full-time basis.
Lee Cole, Brian Doherty, Jeremy Duncan and Conor Harte are already established in the league with Matthew Bell and Ronan Gormley in Germany and David Harte in the Netherlands. HC Rotterdam look set to unveil a couple of Irish players this week while another couple are in talks elsewhere.
The high volume of moves is partially down to the introduction of the Hockey Pro League in 2019 which has made Irish players more attractive for recruiting clubs.
Bar India, Ireland are the highest ranked country not involved in the competition, making them some of the best players available for the whole season.
Usually, the Belgian league recruits most heavily from Spain, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand but their top stars may now have limited availability for the second half of the campaign.
For Ireland, the upshot is these contracts allow a much wider number of players access to full-time hockey which could be a big boost ahead of November’s World Cup.