Ireland captain Megan Frazer and rising star Zoe Wilson will be on opposing teams this season in the German Bundesliga after landing moves to Mannheimer and Harvesthuder respectively, writes John Flack.
The pair become the third and fourth Ireland players to leave the country and ply their trade on the European mainland, following in the footsteps of Emily Beatty and Kate Lloyd, who are playing in Belgium.
Former Ulster Elks midfielder Frazer has arrived in the Baden-Württemberg region after the club fought off stiff competition from several other continental outfits to secure her services.
The 25-year-old, who has 106 caps to date, is no stranger to plying her trade outside Ireland, having spent three years at the University of Maryland on a hockey scholarship, after travelling to the United States as a teenager.
Having originally played her club hockey for Ballymoney, she spent a season with Holcombe on her return from America and helped the Kent side earn promotion to the English Premier League before joining the Elks two seasons ago.
She was instrumental in helping the Jordanstown side win back-to-back Irish Senior Cups and a European title in Prague in May when she was handed the player-of-the-tournament accolade.
Frazer is looking forward to the challenge of playing her hockey with Mannheimer, who play in a 2,500 capacity stadium and had two women on the German squad that captured the bronze medals at the Rio Olympics.
It was former Ireland coach Darren Smith set the wheels in motion ahead of Frazer’s dream move.
“I like the coach, Philipp Stahr, who has a connection with Darren, and I like the club and the quality of the assistant coaches and the fact they have other internationals playing there is also appealing” said the Derry woman who is a cousin of Republic of Ireland footballer Darron Gibson.
“Being free to spend as much time on hockey as possible will allow me to improve all aspects hopefully and I am looking forward to learning a different style of game.
“I will be aiming to try and improve my penalty-corner drag-flick and everything else really as a full-time hockey athlete.
“It’s a great opportunity to try and develop and bring some new ideas and ways of playing back to Ireland.”
“Although I am used to playing my hockey in different places, it will be a new experience playing in a country that doesn’t speak English as a first language.”
If anything, Wilson’s move to Harvestehuder is more remarkable considering she made her Ireland debut less than two years ago and has just 20 senior international caps to he name.
The 19-year-old, who played in midfield for Randalstown but has been converted into a defender with Ireland, was head hunted by the Hamburg-based club
She has gone on to establish herself as a regular starter with Graham Shaw’s team and after some eye-catching performances, Harvestehuder came knocking on her door.
Wilson’s decision to end a hockey scholarship in the United States after only a few months to concentrate on her international career has paid rich dividends.
Not only will she receive a salary, she will also have free accommodation thrown into the package as she heads to Hamburg to link up with the 14-times German champions.
“The assistant coach of the club, Tobias Hauke, made the first contact with me to see if I would be interested in playing abroad.” she explained.
“As soon as it became an option I discussed it with Graham and he thought it was a great opportunity to experience a different style of hockey and was supportive of me going.”
Naturally, Wilson is excited about the move which comes just five years after she scored the winning goal for Ballyclare High in the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Schools Cup final.
“I haven’t visited the club yet so I’m excited to see what it has in store for me but, from all the correspondence I have had, everything seems very positive and welcoming.” she added.
“I’m not sure yet whether I will stay there for more than one season but Megan and I will be free to play for Ireland at the World League II tournament in January as the German season moves indoors at that time of the year.”