A 20-player Australia men’s squad has been selected for FIH Pro League matches against the Netherlands and Belgium in Europe next month, as the Kookaburras also get a look in at the Paris 2024 Olympic venue.
Kookaburras Head Coach Colin Batch has made nine changes to the squad that competed in the FIH Pro League ‘mini tournament’ in Christchurch at the end of April.
Overall impressed by what he saw from the group who played in Christchurch, Batch is eager to see what level other players are at during the European tour as he looks to identify his best team for the all-important Oceania Cup, which doubles as Olympic qualifiers, in August.
Included in the squad for Europe are five established Kookaburras who have been based abroad over the past two months.
Tim Brand, Tom Craig, Matt Dawson, Blake Govers and Jeremy Hayward have been playing club hockey in Europe and will join up with the Kookaburras travelling party for the FIH Pro League series.
The quintet, who have a combined 715 international matches of experience between them, last played for the Kookaburras in the Pro League ‘mini tournament’ in Hobart in late February.
The other notable inclusions are goalkeeper Ash Thomas, who will make his Kookaburras debut, Canberra based Davis Atkin who played three Pro League matches in India earlier this year, plus Jacob Anderson and Dylan Martin.
One notable absentee is star midfielder Aran Zalewski. The 30 year old 240 game veteran will remain in Perth after recently becoming a father for the first time.
“One of the things we wanted in the Christchurch Pro League series was a consolidation of our way of play and improvement…and we saw that in the group who played there, so I was pleased with that side of it,” said Batch.
“This will be a build up for the Oceania Cup to make sure we have the best 18 players for those games. Right at this minute I’m not sure who that is, which is why we have extended opportunities for players to find out exactly where everyone is at.”
“I want to find out exactly where the five players who have been playing in Europe are at and have a good assessment of them.
“Then we can compare them with the ones who have been playing in the last couple of Pro League mini tournaments, so this has been a good and interesting opportunity for us to extend the depth of the squad.”
“There are some disappointed guys who played well in New Zealand but aren’t in the European tour, but they are certainly in contention for future section.”
“Aran (Zalewski) will attend to home duties for a while helping to take care of his new baby daughter Margot. It’s a nice thing for him to do and I fully support it.”
“Ash (Thomas) has been around the group for some time without getting an opportunity. He played in the Junior World Cup in 2016, so we’re giving him an opportunity now and that comes off the back of him performing well in the Hockey One League last year. This opportunity for him is consistent with us opening up selection at this time.”
Batch will get no better gauge at where his players and game style are at than by taking on the world number one (Netherlands) and two (Belgium) ranked men’s hockey nations.
“We want to continue refining our way of play. Every time you play against European teams they challenge you in different ways so we get to learn more about our players that way,” said Batch.
“First and foremost, we need to see if our way of play stacks up against quality European opposition.”
“It’s always a good challenge playing the Netherlands and Belgium, especially on their home patch.”
In addition to the Pro League matches, the tour will include a match against Ireland on 7 June before concluding with two internationals against France in Paris on 23 and 25 June, a year out from the Paris 2024 Olympics.