Still smarting from the semifinal exit at the Asia Champions Trophy, Indian men’s hockey team chief coach Graham Reid on Friday said the setback came as a reality check for the Tokyo Olympic bronze medal winners ahead of a busy calendar year.
Defending champions India were stunned 3-5 by Japan in the semifinal of the ACT in Dhaka last month.
“It’s always difficult. You have to be put in situations. Everybody including myself hated that semifinal loss to Japan in ACT. No one likes to experience something like that. But sometimes you have to experience that to learn from it," Reid said in a virtual press conference.
“The message after that tournament was ‘Look this is what happens if we don’t treat every single game with the utmost importance. I think it was really good learning experience."
Reid said his message to the team after the historic Olympic medal was straight forward: “This is just the beginning and not the end of the road" and the loss against Japan will act as reminder for them ahead of a busy year that includes FIH Pro league matches, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
“Straight after the Olympics I also said that ‘This is not it, this is just the start’ and that’s has been our message from the moment we won the bronze medal in Tokyo.
“…we have to take the best out of the opprtiunities from here," he said.
India will start the year with back-to-back Pro League ties against South Africa and France in Potchefstroom from February 8 to 13.
Olympic bronze medal-winning captain Manpreet Singh will lead a 20-member Indian team in the double-leg contests in South Africa.
The team will also have its veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh back besides getting two new faces — young dragflicker Jugraj Singh and striker Abhishek.
“We were able to do that in Bangladesh (give chances to new players). We were able to give the players who haven’t had the opportunity for a while.
“We also needed to bring back some of the other players who haven’t had a game since the Olympics. The other important message is that these will be very tough games, we are taking them pretty seriously so the team we picked is reflective of that," the coach said about the squad.
Talking about the two new players, Reid said: “Jugraj is quite a versatile player who can play in both midfield and defence. He is also very quick when he dragflicks. I am quite excited if we can get him little more consistent where he puts them.
“Abhishek likes scoring goals, a prolific scorer. He is strong and young."
The Australian tactician is also impressed with the longevity and commitment of veteran goalkeeper Sreejesh.
“He (Sreejesh) is back again, he had a long break but you don’t get to play so long for your country as he has without being open to new ideas and changes and development and continual improvement. You have to have the same drive and same commitment that you had when you are 19."
The coach was also full of appreciation for skipper Manpreet’s competitive spirit.
“One of the things you see with Manpreet is that there is a competitiveness, that internal drive to better and to win is something that you can’t teach people, you have to experience, learn and develop it. When you see Manpreet play he brings in that competitive spirit," Reid said.
Skipper Manpreet too highlighted the importance of starting the year on a positive note.
“It’s a very important year for the team. It’s a good opportunity for us to play matches against France and South Africa and we hope to start the new year on a winning note and make good progress. It’s a very important tour for us," he said.
“In ACT there were quite a few new players, a new team. We needed to give chance to other players and see their improvement. This year is very important for us. We have Pro League, CWG, Asia Cup, Asian Games and World Cup next year."