Hockey: Offshore investment

The resurgent New Zealand women's hockey team go into the Champions Trophy in Nottingham for the first time in four years next weekend - happy to be back on the world stage but aware that their re-emergence could cost them by having more players lured to Europe.

The six teams that qualify for the Champions Trophy are among the best in the world and, although New Zealand have never enjoyed a podium finish, their revival as a hockey power is seeing an increased focus on Kiwi players by powerful European clubs.

That creates a catch-22 as they tackle a busy international programme that includes the Champion's Trophy, World Cup and the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Everyone wants more Kiwis to join the five already playing for European clubs (Kayla Sharland, Katie Glynn, Krystal Forgesson, Emily Naylor and Gemma Flynn all play in the Netherlands and Germany) but all know that will mean less time for those players with the Black Sticks national team.

Time away from their clubs has to be written into contracts or negotiated. For example, special dispensation is required at October's Commonwealth Games for those playing in the Netherlands and Germany - countries with no direct national involvement in Delhi.

Hockey New Zealand chief executive Hilary Poole encourages players to get exposure in Europe because benefits outweigh negatives.

"Increasing numbers are being invited to join. That's fine. It earns them an income and an OE but we need to balance that so national squad members are available for coaching, development and internationals at home. We work with players to ensure their commitment to the national team."

Veteran New Zealand goalkeeper Beth Jurgeleit says getting overseas experience far outweighs missing the odd international because it makes the Black Sticks better players.

"There is nothing unusual in playing a sport where international teams don't play together all the time: look at football. It's more important we're playing in the strongest club competitions in the world. Players then come back with some good ideas.

"For instance I was able to ask the girls how Dutch drag-flick specialist Maartje Paumen has been going recently. They said she'd been going well, which wasn't quite what I wanted to hear as a keeper but was helpful nonetheless."

New Zealand's resurgence on the international stage after winning the Champions Challenge and Oceania World Cup tournament last year has guaranteed invitations to more international tournaments - and more interest in players. Coach Mark Hager says more are being targeted outside the five already playing overseas.

"Clubs are seeing our players first hand and already I'm fielding questions about more of our players like Anita Punt and Lucy Talbot. Of course you want them to be part of the best club competition in the world but you also need them at home so young players can look up to them."

Hager is currently with the Black Sticks at the Rabo Four Nations Trophy in the Netherlands where the side has had a loss to Argentina and draw with China. The Black Sticks played the hosts overnight.

That invitation is an endorsement of Hager's coaching abilities, having turned around a team that finished last at the Olympics. The situation has not been lost on Jurgeleit who first played for New Zealand in 2003.

"It's the first time in a while we have been playing back-to-back top 10 teams."

In fact it's tougher than that: Netherlands are ranked No 1, Argentina are two and China three on the latest world rankings.

- Herald on Sunday

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