Hockey: Black Sticks might not play in Indian league

By Michael Brown

Shea McAleese in action against Korea at the London Olympics. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Shea McAleese in action against Korea at the London Olympics. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The chances of nine New Zealand hockey players featuring in January's Hockey India League is looking increasingly unlikely after the timing of both the auction and tournament were moved again.

Not only has the player auction been pushed back for a second time - it's now scheduled for December 16 - but the tournament itself has also been moved to run from January 17-February 17 meaning it clashes with a Black Sticks camp at which attendance is compulsory.

Dean Couzins, Shea McAleese, Simon Child, Phil Burrows, Steve Edwards, Andy Hayward, Nick Wilson, Hugo Inglis and Hamish McGregor were among 91 foreigners vying to be picked up by one of the six franchises for hockey's equivalent of India's Twenty20 cricket competition. Each team was due to comprise 24 players - 14 Indians and 10 foreigners.

McAleese, however, was increasingly sceptical about whether he would be available to play because of national and club commitments and also wasn't sure the league would even go ahead, despite being sanctioned by the International Hockey Federation.

"Not so much,'' he said he asked if he thought the league would happen. "Just because it's changed three times already. You set your life up around a date and it changes on you. I have been talking with my club the whole time. They took a while to come around and now the dates have changed so I'm not sure how it will go.''

McAleese has a two-year contract to play for HGC in the Dutch league, which is due to begin the week after the end of the Indian league. The 28-year-old has been in contact with hockey friends in the Netherlands and been told many Dutch players, who were due to be among a large number of foreigners up for auction, might be forced to withdraw.

On top of that, Hockey New Zealand have scheduled a national training camp from February 5-12. Attendance is compulsory and new Black Sticks coach Colin Batch said he wasn't prepared to change the date.

"If players still want to play in it, and I'm not sure how many do now because of all this uncertainty, they will still have to come back for the camp,'' Batch said. "We have put the camp there for a reason and the national programme comes first. I would want every player who is selected in the national squad to attend that camp because it's an important phase in our yearly structure and it's one of the few times we have all the national players together.''

Although the Indian league might not have offered the riches of cricket's IPL - New Zealand cricket captain Ross Taylor was sold to Delhi Daredevils for US$1 million - it was still seen as a fillip for hockey players who have often struggled financially.

"If it was to work out and I was to get picked up it would be amazing,'' McAleese said. "I would say we are semi-professional players at the moment. You get free accommodation and a car and just enough to live on. It's not enough to kickstart your life. But if I was able to go to India and get a bit of a pay cheque, it will really help. It would mean I could be fully professional.''

The latest delay in the auction was put down to franchise coaches being in Melbourne for this week's Champions Trophy.

- APNZ

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