PR Sreejesh: We hope to do better in Asian Games

Sreejesh, who captained the national team to the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics, but his most cherished dream was fulfilled in last year's Tokyo Olympics when India won a historic bronze after a hiatus of 41 years.

Sreejesh, who made his senior team debut in 2006, is regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in world hockey.   -  PTI

He’s been doing it for two decades now but PR Sreejesh’s brightest moment in the spotlight came six seconds from the end of time at the Tokyo Olympics last year. Since then, the Indian hockey goalkeeper has been catching up on family time, gathering accolades and mentoring a new generation of players to take over when he is done.

He, though, seems in no mood to relinquish his spot anytime soon. The 33-year old will finally get back into action at the Pro League matches against South Africa and France later this month, kicking off what will be a hectic 12 months for the Indian men’s team culminating in the World Cup in January 2023.

“Wearing that blue jersey is not for everyone and the opportunity to represent your country and take it to the podium -- that is an excitement you can never get used to or take for granted. I know how hard it was to get my first jersey or bounce back from all the injuries so I am not going to give up just because of age. As long as I am good enough, I want to continue without setting any long-term targets,” Sreejesh said in a virtual interaction with select media on Wednesday.

Sreejesh recently added the World Games Athlete of the Year as the latest in his kitty already filled with almost every national honour possible and believes it belongs to the entire sport, coming as it did against multiple nominations from across the sporting arena. But there is a lot more he wants before thinking of calling it quits.

'No lack of motivation'

“I was constantly with the core group and in the training camp, staying at the highest level in terms of preparations. The Olympic bronze was an achievement but I now have the chance to change its colour. The Asian Games are this year and we hope to do better than last time and get to Paris early. We could not make the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup and we have another chance again at home and a medal there will complete my bucket list. So there is no lack of motivation,” he laughed when asked about his goals.

That said, he knows he is now an icon for a whole generation of players wishing to emulate him and understands the responsibility that popularity brings. And has a few words of wisdom for the Gen Next. “Don’t aim to be like Sreejesh, aim to be better than Sreejesh. Because when you copy someone, you can only reach that level. But when you develop your own style and think of getting better than everyone else, and become a permanent fixture in the national team, that’s when you realise how far you can go. Never give up until you reach your dreams,” he advised the youngsters.

He should know. Sreejesh came into the Indian side at a time when things both on and off the field were at rock-bottom and had to learn things the hard way. He now wants to make sure others have it better. “The youngsters in the team now, I have to watch my tone with them or they may get upset or take things too seriously as coming from a senior. It will take some time, of course, because with players like Birendra Lakra or Rupinder Pal Singh (both retired after Olympics) in the defence, we had been playing together for more than 10 years.

“We could say anything and not be affected by it and there was a rapport and understanding of each other’s game without actually saying anything. That said, there are now defenders who have been playing together for 3-4 years now including Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar but it will take some time to develop the same level of comfort. But that’s why we train every day, to get the adjustments done and develop that understanding,” he signed off.

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