It’s an adventure many an Irish traveller with a hint of wanderlust has undertaken, but few have done so in the hope of furthering their sporting career. Jonathan Bruton has already left the building, and in a few weeks’ time will begin a new chapter of his hockey career in Australia.
The 21-year-old Cork C of I forward is following a path well-worn by some of his Irish international team-mates by pitching up at the Fremantle Magpies in Perth. He left Ireland on Wednesday – and will miss the Irish Hockey Awards, where he is nominated in the Senior Club Player of the Year category, as a result – and will play for the majority of the Australian season, which runs until September.
Phelie and Michael Maguire have both spent time at the club, while Peter Blakeney was a rousing success during his time there, getting selected for the state side, the Western Australia Thundersticks, picking up an Australian Hockey League medal and scoring five goals in that tournament the process.
Bruton will link up with his new team-mates – who lie second in the AHG table with four wins from five games – next month, but took the time to tell Southern Fried about his adventure down under before he left, admitting the move is just as much about seeing the world as furthering his hockey career.
“To be honest I need a break from Ireland, and Perth has good weather, beaches galore and the lads tell me it’s a great hockey club,” he said. “It will be a great experience for me to play with top players – I’m excited, and playing with Fremantle ties in with exactly what I wanted, so I’m delighted with it.
“I checked it out myself first, then asked Michael (Maguire) loads about it when we were training recently. He and Phelie said the setup was brilliant and the facilities are great, all of them seemed to recommend it.”
While Bruton says he was initially pointed in the direction of the Melville club by Irish hockey’s high performance director Dave Passmore, he chose Fremantle on the basis that they were willing to get him set up before he ever set foot on a plane. He also leaves with the blessing of current Irish coach Paul Revington.
“(Revington) said he’d help me out if I needed recommendations,” he says. “I didn’t know about it, but Fremantle had already sussed me out, they got onto (fellow Irishman and former Fremantle player) Cliff Bailey who got in touch with Andy Chambers at C of I, looking to see what kind of player I was. It does help; you need to be confident about it, I’d be scared to be going over there playing hockey if I wasn’t confident.”
As a pacy forward with a penchant for the spectacular, Bruton is also visibly excited about Fremantle’s reputation for attacking hockey. This is borne out by their results thus far this season; they have hit 23 goals in five games, and having tasted Revington’s preference for playing the game offensively in the Irish camp, Bruton is raring to sample it in Oz.
“I’ve heard the style they play is very attacking, they basically skip midfield and go straight to the forwards so that will suit me down to the ground,” he says.
“The new Irish coach is beginning to really suit me, he’s playing very attacking stuff. At the training camp in Alicante I liked his style; his theories are all about attacking at the first opportunity.
“That will help people gravitate towards the sport as well; I don’t want to be criticising too much, but knocking it around the back and waiting for opportunities (isn’t ideal), whereas this style of play will be so much more exciting for people to watch.
“The defenders aren’t going to be sitting deep; with the auto-pass rule you can move the ball straight away. The old Irish style of play was to get it into midfield, who would bounce it back and wait for the next opportunity, but now it’s more about ‘turn and go’. You don’t want to be giving up possession too easily either, but in Alicante we did a lot of work about how to get the ball forward.”
Bruton’s enthusiasm about Revington’s impact on the Irish setup also raises an important question. As an established member of the Ireland A squad, is heading off into the sunset going to jeopardise his Irish place, given the South African gave him his first cap against Scotland last November? Bruton waxes philosophical on the issue.
“That had a lot to do with my thoughts regarding whether I’d go to Australia or not; you’re thinking, ‘Am I going to ruin my chances?’. But it’s also got to do with life experience; hockey isn’t everything to me. I just tied the hockey in with the travelling,” he explains.
“It probably will affect my chances a bit because there will be up-and-coming players who get a look in throughout the year ahead of me while I’m away. But the coach is looking for players to go away and play, get a different view of things, and he’s delighted I’m going. I’ll keep in contact with him throughout the year and see how things are progressing.”
And what of the team-mates he leaves behind? Despite claiming a third straight Munster league title, C of I flattered to deceive on the national stage, where they crave success the most.
They looked odds-on for an Irish Hockey League semi-final place before pressing the self-destruct button against Three Rock at Grange Road, while hopes of a first Irish Senior Cup since 1999 were dashed early on when eventual winners Pembroke Wanderers won a scrappy clash at Garryduff 2-1.
Bruton fired one of the goals of the season that day – an unstoppable reverse into the top corner from the top of the circle – but insists C of I can end their famine on the national stage in his absence.
“We’ve always said we’re a young team but we’ve never really fulfilled that…but the Hobbsys, the Jermyns, Burnsy and Ruddle still have a good few years left in them to win something,” he offers.
“I do believe we still have it in us; we challenged in the IHL but then just seemed to crumble. We get blamed a lot up front because we don’t win enough (frees and corners) – but I’d like to see Hobbsy or Jermyn playing up front.
“(Having said that), we’re over-reliant on them and we can’t just wait for them to do things. Look at the likes of Pembroke, they rely on everyone, and they have a great squad; four trophies tells its own story, it’s incredible.”
Nonetheless, for now Bruton will be hoping that Irish hockey’s love affair with Perth can continue; either way, he is sure to return to Garryduff in 2010 with plenty more strings to his bow.