Former hockey goalkeeper Edwards is all praise for Manpreet and Co.

The 52-year-old Edwards feels the current men's hockey team that will compete at the Tokyo Games is the fittest ever from the country.

Hockey Olympian Alloysius Edwards at Gymkhana Ground in Hyderabad.   -  V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Former India hockey goalkeeper Alloysius Edwards feels that the Manpreet Singh-led Indian hockey men's team in next month’s Tokyo Olympics is the best and the fittest from the country ever to compete at the Games.

The 52-year-old Edwards, who led in the Azlan Shah Trophy once, should know it better having been with the Indian team for close to 15 years - twice in the Olympic camps (1988 and 1992) - before finally making it to the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“This Indian team has the youth and class and I am pretty confident that the first-time Olympians will all be excited to give off their best and that in the process should only help the team’s cause,” he said in a chat with Sportstar.

“This team is capable of beating the best and fitness is the key unlike in the past. And, that they could maintain such high levels despite the pandemic is a tribute to their hard work and determination,” he said.

The Punjab & Sind Bank Manager takes pride in revealing that it was he as the junior national selector in 2004 who insisted that goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh was given the exposure.

“He showed a lot of talent and skills too. The top brass in the IHF was not keen but I stood my ground and I am glad that Sreejesh is now the best goalkeeper,” Edwards said.

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“Honestly, picking Sreejesh as the only goalkeeper in the squad might also be too harsh on him. There will be pressure for sure on him, more so because he has to stay away from injuries and be extra safe might also not let him display his robust style of goalkeeping,” he explained.

"I also feel good to see midfielder Hardik Singh in the squad for Tokyo for he was another player pushed by me during my junior national selector's stint," he said.

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“And, picking only one goalie for the Olympics should also be disheartening for the other contenders who could have hoped for the second slot. They should not be faulted if they were left wondering whether it was worth training so hard and giving off their best in all the major events when this kind of selection takes place,” Edwards said.

“Frankly, I was disheartened then (in 1988 and 1992) but never gave up putting in the best efforts in all the tournaments that I played later on,” he said.

“And, when I finally got the nod for Atlanta, my joy knew no bounds. I went to Velankanni with my family and tonsured our heads. Even my wife gave up her long hair. All this shows that it is not just the athlete who takes pride in getting that Olympics blazer but the entire family,” he said.

“Oh! The Atlanta Olympics is the most unforgettable experience. Watching the great Mohammed Ali lighting the Olympic Torch, Dream Team of basketball, and so many big names from other disciplines. It made me feel in the Games Village that I too belonged to that big family like a small member. The aura was different,” Edwards said.

“Then, came the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I was in the team, attended the one-month camp in Brisbane before the Games and then went to Sydney Games Village. I had everything - the kit, the jersey (No. 12), the blazer and the will-power backed all the years of training and hard work,” he recalled.

“I sacrificed everything for what I thought would be the moment of reckoning in my career. Then, I faced the shock of my life when I was replaced. I was told that I could stay back, but I was shattered. I could not stay there. It was a humiliating experience. It was abysmal and flew back distraught,” Edwards said.

“Never thought my career as a player would undergo such dramatic change in four years and that too after being in the Olympics squad. I wish and pray to God that those kinds of humiliations should never be meted out to any athlete,” he concluded.

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