Living hockey with the world’s top players for 24 hours a day proved a huge eye-opener for Tasmanian coach Andrew McDonald.
The 48-year-old took long service leave from the Tasmanian Institute of Sport to accept an offer in the high-stakes Hockey India League and hopes to use the lessons learned to help guide Tasmania’s best young players.
McDonald served as assistant coach to fellow Australian Jay Stacy at Dabang Mumbai.
The team featured Kookaburras Jeremy Hayward and Keiran Govers, German Olympic gold medallist Florian Fuchs, Swede Johan Bjorkman, Irishman David Harte, Belgian Emmanuel Stockbroekx, Dutchmen Robbert Kemperman and Sander De Wijn and several Indian stars including youngster Harmanpreet Singh.
Based in Mumbai for the first half of the tournament then embarking on something of a roadshow around India, Dabang finished top of the ladder, with six wins and two draws from 10 games, but lost the grand final 4-1 to Kalinga Lancers, receiving US$185,000 as tournament runners-up.
“It was a wonderful experience to be involved in,” McDonald said.
“It was seven weeks full-on and a lot of pressure but it was really good to be challenged every day and to live that environment 24 hours a day. It was amazing.”
McDonald explained that each team had a US$750,000 salary cap and was made up of 12 Indian players and eight internationals.
At any time, only five foreigners and six Indians are allowed on the pitch and if a team breaches this rule, its captain gets a yellow card.
McDonald said this produced a high-pressure working environment, but one he feels will improve him as a coach.
“I saw it as a real investment in my own development, going outside my comfort zone to improve and develop my coaching acumen, so I saw it as a win-win opportunity.
“It was a chance to freshen my coaching skills and share information with top players, watch how Olympians operate day to day, how professional they are, and observe things that maybe we don’t do enough.
“I learned a lot and one thing everyone learns in India is patience.”
McDonald said it was impossible not to learn from the top players, especially Fuchs, who cost the franchise US$96,000, was made captain and eventually awarded player of the tournament.
“He does not go missing in big games. He has an extremely high aerobic engine, is very clever with his hands and reverse stick and always seems to get the ball. He is a great reminder of the benchmarks and what you need to do to be at that level.
“As a captain he was very forthright in his views in how we could change things so he was a common point for us to chat to and learn how the players were feeling.”
McDonald, who has previously served as an assistant coach with the Kookaburras at the World Cup, said the competitive nature of elite professional athletes knew few bounds.
“Everything is a competition to them, from the matches to a game of Uno, and there is always a penalty.
“One of our Dutch players, Sander De Wijn, had to wear his shirt back to front for an entire flight plus the trip to the hotel as a penalty for losing at Uno.”
The former coach of the Tasmanian Tigers did not have to look hard for familiar faces in the month-long tournament.
Dabang’s first match was a 3-3 draw against a Ranchi Rays team featuring Tim Deavin, and its second was a 4-3 defeat of Eddie Ockenden’s Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
Everything is a competition to them, from the matches to a game of UnoAndrew McDonald
Ultimately, only a 4-3 shootout loss in the first semi-final prevented Ockenden and McDonald from being reunited in the final.
The TIS coach said both players did the state proud.
“Although Ranchi did not make the final, Deavo played very well. I discussed this with Jay and we thought he was certainly one of the best performing Australians in the competition.
“Eddie also played very well for Uttar Pradesh who beat Delhi Waveriders 5-4 to claim third place.”
Meanwhile Tassie Tigers goalkeeper Tristan Clemons played for Jaypee Punjab Warriors who were the reigning champions but finished bottom of the table.
“I hope this link might assist some of our guys getting picked up in the future so it could be of future benefit to our players,” McDonald said.
“I’m making a presentation to our under-18 state team about it this weekend.”
After three wins and a draw from five home games, Dabang hit the road, visiting Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Delhi and Lucknow, losing just once more in a hectic tour of the country’s major cities.
They returned to Chandigarh to defeat Delhi Waveriders 2-0 in their semi-final before losing to Kalinga Lancers in the tournament showpiece.
Lancers, who had finished second on the table after the roster matches, took home US$250,000 as champions and McDonald said while the tournament is not quite as lucrative as its cricket sibling, the Indian Premier League, the hockey-mad nation is just as supportive.
In other Tasmanian hockey news, Ockenden has flown from India to Europe and is playing for his Dutch club side Laren while Josh Beltz and Jeremy Edwards will this week be joined by youngster Jack Welch and coach Ilene Carr on a national training camp in Canberra.