For the longest time this season, Dhanpal Ganesh found himself on the outside, looking in. An injury to his knee prior to the start of the 2018-19 Indian Super League season dealt an untimely blow to both Ganesh and his team, Chennaiyin FC, who were coming back as champions having won it all in 2017-18.
The injury ended up costing the midfielder the entire ISL season. But Ganesh returned to action in March, reinforcing Chennaiyin’s ranks in their Super Cup and AFC Cup campaigns. In all Ganesh has made just 7 appearances for the club this season - 4 in the Super Cup, 3 in the AFC Cup - with only two full 90 minute outings.
Ganesh was in Chennai on Monday to partake in an event organized by Nippon Paint, associate sponsors of Chennaiyin FC. On the sidelines of the event, Sportskeeda caught up with the Tamil Nadu midfielder to get his thoughts on the season gone by.
“Sitting out the whole season, I was wondering when my chance would come as I watched the team have a down season in the ISL”, opens Ganesh.
He explains the agony he felt as he watched Chennaiyin’s title defence unravel, the team finishing bottom of the table with just 9 points.
“It was difficult for me being in a position where I couldn't do anything to help the team. Based on my performances and having trusted me, the team had been built a certain way, so I felt very bad about it”, he says. “I apologized to the coach because I could not contribute in any way this season in the ISL.”
But Ganesh believes that the time spent on the sidelines has reinvigorated him as he states: “Now I feel almost stronger than before.”
While Chennaiyin’s ISL campaign fizzled out, they rebounded nicely in the cup competitions. They showcased some impressive form in getting to the final of the Super Cup before falling short against FC Goa. In the AFC Cup, they are currently top of Group E with 7 points to their name, having been paired with fellow Indian side Minerva Punjab, Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi and Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka.
“We made a good comeback in the Super Cup and AFC Cup. The Super Cup run was not a light thing, because both ISL and I League teams come to compete there. And it's a knockout tournament, one loss and you're out. We beat some strong teams to get to the final, like ATK and NorthEast. I feel the team is back to its strongest now”, exclaims Ganesh.
He is also enjoying playing in the AFC Cup, a competition he considers very prestigious.
“Playing in the AFC Cup is a big deal as all the champion teams of Asia compete here, so we're very happy that we're currently topping the table in our group.
“No Indian team is yet to win at the Asian level. Bengaluru FC got to the final. It's a dream for me as well to win this trophy which is something missing from Chennaiyin's cabinet.”
Chennaiyin have completed their home fixtures in the group and their three remaining fixtures are all away. With only the top team qualifying from each group, the competition is bound to get intense in the next phase. When probed on who he felt were Chennaiyin’s biggest threats in the group, Ganesh chose to not single any one out.
“All 3 teams are pretty tough. Since we played the first 3 matches at home, we had some good support. The next 3 are away, can't say what will happen. But mentally and physically we're ready. The next match is a very important match as if they win they have a chance to be equal with us on points and be top. So we're focused on this game”, said the midfield man rounding things off.
Chennaiyin travel to Dhaka for their next AFC Cup game against Abahani Dhaka on 15 May.Published 07 May 2019, 11:24 IST