Former Black Stick and Black Sticks men’s coach Shane McLeod has returned to New Zealand as an Olympic champion.
McLeod has been coaching the Belgium men’s hockey team for the past six years and pulled off results our national players could only dream of.
In 2018, he led the Red Lions to their first World Cup title. The team saw another first as Euro Hockey Champions in 2019 and, most recently, the biggest prize in hockey - an Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games.
“At the end of it you look back and go, 'whoa, did we really do all that?” McLeod said.
After that success, Auckland Hockey have been quick to snap up the world-leading coach. McLeod has been signed to an 18-month sabbatical with them, allowing him to expose his young Belgian family to a Kiwi summer, as well as an opportunity to help transform the sport here.
“I’m just trying to share my story about a little boy from Hamilton who goes and ends up Olympic champion in a coaching pathway,” McLeod said.
McLeod is in demand following his history-making success. But incredibly, Auckland Hockey have managed to be the first in his list.
The deal started in 2020 when Auckland Hockey chief executive Manoj Daji met up with the coach at a restaurant, where a contract was written up on a napkin.
“We had some dinner in Takapuna and sort of, I guess, a little something on a piece of napkin that said, 'hey, look, if it's true you're coming back for a bit and having a break, we would love to have first dibs,'” Daji said.
McLeod is on a mission to give back to the New Zealand hockey community which gave so much to him as an upcoming player.
His return to New Zealand is timely, with current men’s coach Darren Smith stepping down and moving to a new role with Hockey New Zealand. But McLeod was quick to shut down any ideas of him going for the Black Sticks men’s job too.
“I think Hockey NZ understand where I'm at with that. It’s a bigger market in Europe and I’m exposed to different teams and I quite like that stimulus,” he said.
"If I came back to New Zealand, it would be a fresh start, in a way, so I'd like to start with a new group if I was to do that but nothing's ever out of the question.”
While he may not be Black Sticks men’s coach now, in the meantime, he's in talks with HNZ to set up a Black Sticks base in Europe, allowing our national players to compete in leading club competitions and be exposed to world-class hockey weekly.
A change like this is crucial, especially after the Black Sticks' failed Tokyo campaigns.
“I think everyone knows we've got some work to do but with people like Shane getting around the country and working with other provinces and coaches, I think we've got a chance," Daji said.
Auckland lockdown is at least providing some time for McLeod to enjoy a bit of a holiday before he really gets put to work.