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Annadale have high hopes for Australian star Robbie McGuire

By Graham Hamilton

Published 16/09/2015

Wizard of Oz: Annadale are hoping overseas player Robbie McGuire (left) can give them a lift in the IHL
Wizard of Oz: Annadale are hoping overseas player Robbie McGuire (left) can give them a lift in the IHL

Annadale are set to become the first Ulster men's club in years to introduce an overseas player - but Australian Robbie McGuire won't arrive in time for the opening game in the new-look all-Ireland league set-up.

McGuire has been making an impression with leading Sydney team Norwest Strikers on Saturdays and Central Coast Premier League side Gosford City on Sundays and is keen to make an impression here during what is the Australian close season.

But he isn't due to fly into Belfast until September 27, a day after Annadale play their opening Irish Hockey League game against Banbridge.

It's unusual for an Ulster men's club to sign an overseas player, but it is increasingly common among Dublin sides where many have at least one and sometimes up to five in their ranks as they push for honours.

So how did Dale coach Andy Smyth manage to get his hands on an Aussie?

"Former Kilkeel coach Gordon Cracknell was the linkman," explained Smyth. "He's currently Gosford's Premier League coach and he had a few players that wanted to play abroad during their close season.

"In fact, we might be able to return the favour if any of our young players decide to go to Australia to play during our close season!

"Now it's not a case of us getting an Australian Olympian of the quality of somebody like Jamie Dwyer, but we think he'll be a useful asset.

"And not only as a player, but in bringing on some of our fine young talent."

Cracknell, of course, knows all about McGuire.

He said: "He is 21, has represented New South Wales at under-age levels and the Central Coast senior men in the NSW State Championships since he was 16.

"He is great in the final third, in terms of assists, winning shorts and contributing with goals. I think he can further develop as a player under Andy as well as being a significant attacking weapon in the IHL."

Cracknell has settled in well in NSW and has transformed Gosford from a team at the foot of the table to one that has just won the league title - and they are in Sunday's season-ending Grand Final.

Back to Annadale, and Smyth admits there is a buzz around the club ahead of the new IHL season, even though this week is the first that he has had a full strength squad.

"We had players involved in the Irish Under-18s over the summer, then Michael Robson was away winning European bronze with Ireland, and last week we had a few players involved with Ulster in the UK Schools Games," he said.

"At least it means that the core group that have been training recently should be up to speed with the others who have been away."

There have been many critics about the fully-fledged all-Ireland set-up, but Smyth admits that there have been a handful of spin-offs already.

"We've been operating the last number of years without a main sponsor, but this season we have four or five backing us. Our shirts are beginning to look like Formula One!" he laughed.

The Dale join Lisnagarvey, Banbridge and Pembroke over the weekend for a series of build-up matches ahead of their opening game on September 26.

Domestically, the Kirk Cup continues with the third round of fixtures, and Instonians are expected to maintain their good start in Pool A while Kilkeel and Mossley are aiming to maintain their unbeaten starts in Pool B.

Belfast Telegraph

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