Dilip Tirkey needs no introduction to a sports lover in India. Apart from being a former Indian Men's Hockey team captain and one of the best defenders in the world, the legend from Odisha is also involved in many developmental works for the people of the state and the country.
Tirkey is a triple Olympian, Arjuna Awardee, and Padmashri Awardee. He also holds the record for maximum appearances by an Indian hockey player and has closely observed many players in the current Indian squad over the years.
Read Also: A decade later, Dilip Tirkey continues to inspire hockey aspirants
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Dilip Tirkey shares his opinion regarding India's team combination and their chances at the Olympics amidst a host of other things.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q. What do you think about the Indian Men’s Hockey team for this year’s Olympics? Is it good compared to the teams sent in the previous editions?
Dilip Tirkey: "Hockey India always selects the best team for any tournament. We also want the best Indian hockey team to go into the Olympics or any major tournament that India participates in."
"What’s different about this team is that the same set of players have been playing together for a very long time, around 3-4 years now. I would credit Hockey India and the support staff for believing in the players and preparing such a good team that is ready to make an impact at the Olympics."
"This Indian hockey team isn’t just any other team. It has a mix of youth and experience, which is always a deadly combination. I am sure they will flourish at the Olympics."
Q. Under Graham Reid’s coaching, the Indian hockey team has done exceptionally well in the recent past, defeating some of the strongest teams in hockey. Would these recent wins be a confidence booster for the players and the management going into the Olympics?
Dilip Tirkey: "We have always seen that the Indian Men's hockey team has done well before any major tournament. This time too, we have played some good hockey recently defeating top-class teams like Argentina and Germany. But when you go into the Olympics, the temperament is completely different. Not every player and every team can reflect on their best performances at the Olympics. It’s a completely different ball game."
"Foreign teams display a completely different game at the Olympics. But this Indian hockey team can’t be taken lightly. They have shown tremendous improvement and their performances against the top teams in the world speaks loudly about their temperament."
"Any sportsperson after winning any match (let it be school level or international level) gets confidence and belief, so, without any doubt, the Indian Men’s team’s confidence would be sky-high after defeating Olympic Champions Argentina."
Q. India has been playing under the leadership of Graham Reid for the last two years and, we normally don’t see coaches staying here for a very long time, Roelant Oltmans being an exception. So, how does this impact a player’s preparation of playing under the same coach for a long time?
Dilip Tirkey: "Graham Reid has been the coach for a long time, but the team hasn’t played enough tournaments because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. FIH Pro League has been a major tournament under him and they have done fairly well."
"Graham is a really experienced coach and most importantly, has experience of the Olympics. His vast experience both as a player and as a coach will surely help India bring out their best game at the Olympics."
Q. There are 10 debutants in this year’s squad of 16. Players like Vivek Sagar and Hardik Singh have already proved their mettle in the past. How big is a stage like the Olympics for youngsters who are hungry to prove themselves in Indian colors and would it be a challenge for them to perform on a big stage?
Dilip Tirkey: "When you do anything for the first time, you do it with all your heart. The same goes for these youngsters too, I am sure they will give it their all to prove themselves at the Olympics. These players aren’t the ones, who have just come in. Most of them have played big tournaments in the past."
"Vivek and Hardik have represented the Indian Men's hockey team in the World Cup. So, I don’t think it will be a challenge for these players, rather they will gain confidence and momentum under experienced players like Manpreet and Sreejesh."
"If these youngsters can play the same game that they have played at the World Cup or FIH Pro League, then they can surely succeed at the Olympics."
Q. This will be a completely different Olympics because of COVID-19. With so many restrictions around, will it have any impact on the athletes mentally?
Dilip Tirkey: "Yes, this will have some impact on the players because the Olympics will be held under such strict restrictions for the first time. But this bubble and restrictions aren’t only for India, it will be there for all the players and teams. The teams have been in bio-bubble for a very long time, so I am sure it must be a habit by now. Being mentally strong will be very important if you want to succeed in this year’s Olympics."
Q. Who would be India’s biggest competitor at the Olympics?
Dilip Tirkey: "See, if we look at India’s pool, they have a good chance of getting into the semifinals as they have defeated Argentina recently, and Australia, as usual, will give a very good fight. Japan might be the dark horses as they are the hosts, and any host country is always a difficult opposition."
"If you ask me about the top 5 teams in this Olympics, then it would be Belgium, Australia, Holland (Netherlands), Germany, and India. India will surely have a good chance for a podium finish this time."
Q. The game has evolved over time. When you played, there used to be 2 halves of 35 minutes each, but now it has been changed to 4 quarters of 15 minutes each. Hockey is so fast-paced now. With new techniques, rules, and tricks coming in, do you think the Indian men's hockey team has it all to be a champion this time?
Dilip Tirkey: "This time we are all expecting the Indian team to come back with a medal. We expect that the team will break the 41-year old medal jinx with good team combination."
"In modern-day hockey, the role of a drag-flicker is huge. If you get a penalty corner and don’t score, you lose a big chance to score an easy goal. A field goal is definitely much more difficult to score than a PC."
"Luckily, India has top penalty corner specialists like Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, and Amit Rohidas. They all are equally talented and in my opinion, will play the most important role if the Indian hockey team are to finish on the podium in Tokyo."
"If our flickers score consistently from the PCs and forwards convert most chances, then no one can stop the Indian team from winning a medal".
Q. There are 2 players from Odisha in the Indian Men's hockey team. Your tips and advice to them for making their country and state proud?
"Amit is from my village and he is going to the Olympics for the first time. It will be Birendra’s second Olympics, and I believe both will play huge roles in India’s defense. I was a defender, so I would advise them to keep their calm in pressure situations and we all know they are excellent players, so everything else will fall in place. My best wishes to them."
Q. You have been the captain of the Indian hockey team in the past. Your advice to Manpreet and his warriors to excel at the Olympics?
Dilip Tirkey: "Olympics comes once every 4 years, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for money. I would say everyone has to give it their all if they want to create history. All 10 debutants going into the Olympics will have a huge role to play."
"Manpreet is a captain leading by example. I believe this team has the capability to turn the tides and break the 41-year old medal jinx. Good luck to everyone!"