It was 15 years ago that UniKL coach Darren Smith made his debut for New Zealand. And ironically it was at the Tun Razak Stadium where he gained his first cap, against Spain in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Darren was 21 at that time and now it is here in Malaysia that he techincally makes he debut as a coach of a men's team outside New Zealand. For Darren had coached the Belgium U16 girls team earlier this decade before being appointed as the assistant coach to Shane Mcleod.
"Malaysia is a country that I have pleasant memories as I have played some 60 international matches during my 15 visits here as a player," said Darren when met at the KLHA Stadium prior to putting the UniKL players through their paces in his second training stint after arriving last Friday.
"It is a new challenge for me and from what I have gathered, it is the likes of TNB, Sapura and KLHC that are the early favourites.
"It is an exciting proposition for me to be able to coach UniKL as I appreciate their confidence in me. And I aim to impart my knowledge to these players."
Darren said that the UniKL team had alredy secured the services of a German player and the New Zealand keeper.
"We are in the midst of negotiating with two more players from New Zealand but there are several factors that need to be considered, like the positions we require players for<' said Darren.
Although Darren has quit his job as the High Performance Director for Midlands, he is still listed as their coach and has been given leave from his role as the asistant coach of the BlackSticks.
"I am grateful to the NZ Hockey Association for their understanding and will return to the national team once my term here ends," conceded Darren.
Darren takes over from I. Vikneswaran as coach and UniKL have retained former national fullback, K.Embaraj as the assistant coach.
Darren retired as the third highest capped player ever with 212 internationals, behind Simon Towns (217 games) and Umesh Parag (214).
He rated the 7-1 win over Pakistan at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, playing at the Athens Olympics and the recent Changzhou qualifying tournament win as the highlights of his playing career.
However UniKL were dealt with a severe blow as their recent signing C.Baljit Singh made a U-turn and returned to his former club Tenaga Nasional Berhad.
And TNB did a number on UniKL by pinching the MHF-MILO-NSC Junior Hockey League top scorer Mohd Sabri.