Confident Tirkey keen to make amends

Hockey: Experienced midfielder says defence not a worry

No one can feel the magnitude of the Olympic qualifier more than Ignace Tirkey. The bitter memories of not qualifying for the quadrennial event four years ago are still fresh in his mind and the veteran midfielder is more than eager to make amends.

At 30, Tirkey is the most experienced player in the current Indian team. He is the only one in this team, apart from drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, to know the thrill of playing in the Olympics, being a part of the 2004 Athens Games. He also knows the pain of India not making the cut for the first time in 80 years. It is a regret he carries and hopes to erase it with a good performance.

“It was a very bad phase. It still hurts when I think we could not even qualify. I know the players of that team still feel bad about it,” Tirkey told Deccan Herald.

“It becomes all the more important that we qualify this year.  The event is at home and we would like to reach out to the hockey fans with our performance and assure them that hockey is very much alive. We cannot afford to slip this time because it will spell doom for hockey in India.”

Under coach Michael Nobbs, Tirkey, who has been performing a dual role of a midfielder and defender, insisted the team's defence is not as shoddy as it has been made out to be.

“The defence will prove itself in the qualifier. We will show that we can do a good job. The defenders have been criticised a lot but we have been working hard and we will put up a good show,” Tirkey said.

He also welcomed the inclusion of former team-mate and India captain Dilip Tirkey in the coaching staff.

“I have played a lot with Dilip and his experience has come very handy in the camp. He has worked with us on the basics like footwork and one-on-one tackling. Some of the mistakes we made during the hockey series against South Africa will not be repeated,” he said.

Tough Canadians

The qualifier will feature teams from Italy, Poland, Singapore, Canada and France. Tirkey, with 236 international caps, picked Canada as a side to be wary of.

“Canada has always given us good competition. I remember in 2004 Olympic qualifiers at Madrid, we narrowly qualified with a 6-4 score-line despite Canada being 11th ranked among the 12 teams. Even France could be tough,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Nobbs said the Indian team has to be as ruthless as World Champions Australia if they have to qualify for the Olympics, add agencies.

“Australia will always remain grateful to India for teaching them hockey,” said Nobbs.

“But what makes Australia the best team in the world is their ruthless nature. I want the Indian team to be as ruthless as them if they want to succeed in international hockey and regain their glory days.”

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