Saturday, May 17, 2014

Exclusive Interview A top-6 finish will be an outstanding effort, says Indian men's World Cup coach Terry Walsh

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The 2014 Rabobank Men’s Hockey World Cup will be India’s biggest test since the forgettable 2012 London Olympics campaign, where they finished with a wooden spoon. The 13th edition is just couple of weeks away and there will be no dearth of expectations from the country’s ardent hockey fans when the Blueskirts launch their World Cup campaign against Belgium on May 31.

Much will hinge on how India’s head coach Terry Walsh gets the best out of his boys in The Hague, Netherlands. The 60-year-old Australian is well aware of the weight of expectations. “Well, you can’t have the Indian team cornering glory overnight. We have put a strong process in place which I can confidently say will pay rich dividends in the long run. You can’t have fruit growing on trees overnight – you must give time and I can say for sure that we have some healthy fruits in the growing stage (lot of talented youngsters shaping up well for the future),” the four times World Cupper says in an exclusive interview.

undefined Quite obviously, the conversation revolved around the upcoming World Cup and India’s chances. Walsh chooses to walk the realistic path rather than promise the moon. “My boys have really worked hard in the camp in terms of focusing on the basics. We are trying to work up a style of play which does not conflict with India’s typical way of hockey. Tell me, if we go on to make a podium finish can we say everything is fine with Indian hockey? It’s not, we have to understand that. There is a long way to go before India can be counted among the best. There is a program is place which will take time before India emerges as a world-beater. I believe India should be in the top-8 in the World Cup, a top-six finish will be an outstanding effort,” he makes his point abundantly clear.

Walsh, who also featured in three Olympics – also a member of the silver-winning 1976 Montreal Olympics team – was happy to count on the positive strides the team have made since he took charge. “The Hockey World League Final Round was my first assignment as India coach. Since then the biggest improvement I have seen is in the physical fitness department. I’m not saying that we are ready to out compete sides likes Australia, Netherlands, Germany, but we are getting better and better. Over a period of time you will see this team make significant strides forwards. ” he opines.

Walsh, who earlier coached the national teams of Australia, Netherlands and Malaysia, believes no team can take India to the cleaners. “I can tell you that no team is going to bash us off the pitch. We may end up on the losing side, but won’t be taken apart. The boys are working hard and I’m sure India will have a great World Cup,” he says with aplomb.

The effervescent Aussie, who coached the Kookaburras to a bronze medal finish in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, made a strong pitch for improved fitness levels in domestic teams as it can ensure a formidable supply line for the national team. “The process put in place for the national team should be understood, discussed and at least partially implemented by domestic teams. There is a big gap in fitness standards of the national team and various domestic teams, which needs to be bridged. Domestic players are our supply line for the national team and if they are significantly lagging behind what the national team is doing, then it won’t be an ideal scenario for us,” he observes.

The plethora of injuries have rocked the Indian team in recent times – the likes of SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Harbir Singh have suffered injuries over a period of time. Walsh oozes a relieved look over the same. “Chandi and Harbir are making good recovery but will not make it for the World Cup. The rest are fit with no concerns as of now.

There is little doubt about which team Walsh is going to root for India, but who according to him is the favourite to win the 2014 World Cup? “I think the Netherlands are a strong contender. Playing in their own backyard definitely makes them the red-hot favourite,” quips, Walsh, who coached the Dutch side to a silver medal finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Walsh, who made 175 international appearances for Australia, thrives on solid support from his wife Sharon and two sons Jayme and Cale. “My wife (Sharon) has been a pillar of support for me. Both my sons are well settled. I have a really happy family, states the West Australian who loves the Indian food. “I love Indian food, but what I find a challenge is the repetitive stuff. Chicken Khorma is one of my favourites,” he signs off.

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