If you are a Tirkey, can hockey be far behind?

“What next? I don’t know. I just know I will play hockey till my last breath.”

Published : Jan 17, 2019 18:06 IST

Fully focussed: For Dipsan Tirkey, hockey is everything in life.
Fully focussed: For Dipsan Tirkey, hockey is everything in life.

Fully focussed: For Dipsan Tirkey, hockey is everything in life.

One fine day in Saunamara village of Sundargarh district in Odisha, primary school students Dipsan Tirkey and his elder brother Prashant were on the receiving end of their mother’s wrath for indulging in yet another mischief.

Extremely ‘hurt’ by their mother’s reaction, the kids aged around six and eight years then, decided to run away from home. Prashant took their cycle, but unable to ride it, he pushed it along the road with Dipsan perched on the back seat.

Their journey of freedom had just begun, when the duo spotted their friends playing hockey in a nearby field. Instantly Prashant and Dipsan decided to join them for some time before resuming the journey. By the time the match was over, the brother duo had forgotten about the decision of running away and were instead on their way back home.

“This is what hockey does to me,” Dipsan, now 20 years old, narrates the incident with a smile. “We were crazy. We would do a lot of mischief, but hockey would get us back to our senses. Every time.”

One of India’s brightest hockey prospects today, Dipsan has a childlike affection towards the game. He begins to narrate his journey thus far, but he can’t keep his eyes off the turf where a bunch of kids are practising hockey on a turf owned by a Bhubaneswar-based private University.

Hailing from the village of his idol Dilip Tirkey, hockey came naturally to Dipsan. His ancestral house is barely a kilometre away from Dilip’s, while fellow-India player Amit Rohidas lives across the street. Like most of the hockey players from Odisha, Dipsan also has a family hockey history, but he is the first one to wear the national colours.

“Hockey was a part of our daily routine. Growing up, we had heard about Dilip bhai and the young ones like us wanted to replicate him. My father was a hockey player and I would often accompany him for matches. During match-break, the other kids and I would take over the field and play our own version of the game. This is how I started playing hockey – for fun,” Dipsan says.

He vividly remembers his first tournament called the ‘Khasi tournament’ in the village where the winning team walked away with a ‘goat’ as a prize. Dipsan, the youngest one in the team, was the goalkeeper then. Though his team lost the final, Dipsan was adjudged as the best goalkeeper of the tournament, an achievement in which he takes immense pride even today.

Inspiring elder brother: Prashant Tirkey has been a fount of inspiration for his younger brother Dipsan.

“Prior to my first tournament in the village, dada (elder brother) had got the goalkeeper’s kit. It was not the professional one but it had shin guards and some basic equipment. I was so excited to use them that I decided to become the goalkeeper. My performance was appreciated by everyone and I got the best goalkeeper award. The local newspapers also carried my story,” says Dipsan, who finds a regular mention in sports news.

Though hockey had been a part of Sundargarh’s culture for years, professional equipment was still a luxury. Only after his first tournament did Dipsan get his hands on a professional hockey stick, which was a gift from his idol Dilip Tirkey.

Even though Dipsan’s talent was beginning to get recognition, he was unsure of pursuing the sport professionally. In fact, it was his brother Prashant, who was more interested to play hockey professionally.

“It was a calculated decision by the family. One son from the family plays hockey, the other focusses on studies. Dipsan fared better in studies, so we wanted him to continue with it and take up a job, while I completely focus on hockey,” says elder brother Prashant.

As decided, Prashant soon joined the Panposh Sports Hostel in Rourkela, while Dipsan stayed at home to continue with his education. However, Dipsan couldn’t resist the hockey temptation for long and followed his brother’s footsteps to the Sports Hostel.

In 2009, Dipsan entered the Panposh Sports hostel after successfully giving trials. Still one of the youngest in the teams, he experimented with different positions before finally settling as a defender.

His biggest achievement: Winning the Junior World Cup in Lucknow in 2016 has been Dipsan Tirkey’s (fourth from right, top row) greatest achievement till date.

“In my initial days at the hostel, we were asked to play matches against the senior teams, so I would often experiment with my position. I have played midfield and forward at Sports Hostel, and back home, I was the goalkeeper. So, technically, I have played in all positions,” says Dipsan.

He finally settled as a defender, as per the instruction of his first coach and mentor Bijay Kumar Lakra, who was amazed by his interception skills.

“Dipsan was a born talent. He would surprise us with his interception techniques. I saw him make some impossible clearances from danger and I knew he was fit for the defender position,” says coach Lakra, who has also trained Amit Rohidas.

Gradually, Dipsan began to cement his position and was soon selected for the Hockey Odisha team to play the nationals.

“Dipsan played extraordinary hockey in the sub-junior nationals. He was thin and quite young, but he could easily tackle players with a good build and give them a tough time on the turf. Hockey Odisha went on to win titles consecutively in sub-junior category and Dipsan had a huge role to play in it,” says coach Pratap Sarangi, who took him for the nationals.

“On the field, he was sharp and clinical and off the field, he was mild and sober. It was a perfect combination.”

Dipsan was slowly moulding into a seasoned defender and a call from the India camp was on the cards

On expected lines, after consecutive good shows at the Nationals, Dipsan was called for the junior camp in 2013. But, strangely he was not selected for any tournament. What followed next was like the movie, Gold. Just like the character of Himmat Singh in the Bollywood flick, who didn’t get a chance to play in the Olympics until the final match, Dipsan found his name missing from most tournaments.

“It was like the movie, except Himmat Singh was selected in the team but not the playing eleven, and I couldn’t make it to the team itself. I missed playing the Junior World Cup later that year. I was beginning to get a little impatient. Just like in the movie, I also started getting calls from my family who were worried for me,” Dipsan recalls.

Dipsan kept missing tournaments and while his compatriots played, he and a handful of other junior players were asked to report to the senior camp for exposure.

“Since I didn’t make it to the junior team, I came back to Odisha. I was not informed about the decision to report to the senior camp. My friend and fellow hockey player Sushant Tirkey read about it in a local newspaper and informed me. I was still unsure, so I cross-checked the information with Birendra Lakra and Stanley Minz, who were at the camp in Bhopal. So, for my first senior camp, I was two days late,” Dipsan says with a laugh.

Prior to my first tournament in the village, dada (elder brother) had got the goalkeeper’s kit. It was not the professional one but it had shin guards and some basic equipment. I was so excited to use them that I decided to become the goalkeeper.

In the senior camp, Dipsan got to mingle with the stalwarts of Indian hockey including Sardar Singh and V. R. Raghunath.

“I was nervous. Without playing one match, I was at the senior camp. But, they were supportive. Of course they played some pranks on me, but it was fun.”

In 2013, when nothing was working in Dipsan’s favour, he reluctantly filled up the form for the Hockey India League auctions. The Odisha-based Kalinga Lancers had announced its entry for the tournament and Dipsan decided to try his luck.

“I was not expecting anything. I filled up the form because my friends were doing it. On the auction day, I was bought by Kalinga Lancers for $6000 against the base price of $2600. It was a huge surprise. So, my first big debut was in my home state, in front of my people and family. The disappointment of 2013 finally faded away with the sort of debut I was getting,” Dipsan says.

Though Kalinga Lancers finished at the bottom of the table, for Dipsan, it was a new beginning. He also got a chance to interact at length with his idol Dilip Tirkey, who was the mentor of the franchise.

“I had met Dilip sir only once at Panposh hostel and he was really happy to know that I was from his village. When I met him at the Kalinga Lancers camp, it was a different experience. He was our mentor and I got useful tips from him for my game. The person who I had idolised was helping me improve my game.”

“It was also the first time I interacted with so many international players, while sharing the dressing room with them. An exposure of that sort on my debut was the best thing I could have ever asked for.”

After the Kalinga Lancers debut, Dipsan was called for the Sultan of Johor Cup, followed by Test series and international tours. But, in his heart, Dipsan was secretly eyeing one tournament – which could be his chance to redeem his disappointments.

I am motivated to do better. The Kalinga Stadium is a special venue and playing a World Cup at home would have been a dream come true. But, I am sure I will make it to the senior team soon.

“The Junior World Cup! In 2013, the tournament was held in New Delhi, but I couldn’t make it to the team. In 2016, the tournament had come back to India, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it,” says Dipsan.

Not only did he make it to the team for the 2016 Junior World Cup held in Lucknow, he was also given the additional responsibility of being the Vice-Captain. The rest is history.

“It was India’s second Junior World Cup title. It is also my most cherished moment. We had put in so much of effort and the title win was a great motivation. Whenever I think of that tournament, I get emotional,” Dipsan says.

Following the success, Dipsan and four other junior World Cup heroes were given a chance in the senior team for the tour to Belgium and the Netherlands.

The idol: Dilip Tirkey has been Dipsan’s idol. Indeed Dilip gifted Dipsan the latter’s first professional hockey stick.
  “For any player, this is the best moment. I got the opportunity I had been waiting for all my life,” says Dipsan.

The team played five matches during the tour, winning three. Later in the year, Dipsan also got a call to play the Hockey World League Finals in Bhubaneswar, where India won the bronze medal. But Dipsan missed the bus for the recent Hockey Men’s World Cup. In fact, he was a surprise omission from all the three major tournaments held in 2018 – the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the World Cup.

“Yes, it is disheartening,” says Dipsan, without elaborating on the reasons for his omission.

“But, this doesn’t stop me from working hard. On the contrary, I am motivated to do better. The Kalinga Stadium is a special venue and playing a World Cup at home would have been a dream come true. But, I am sure I will make it to the senior team soon,” says Dipsan, who was in the stands with the public to watch all India matches.

While getting back to the senior team remains his major focus this year, Dipsan has no long term plan.

“I am a hockey player and I will keep playing. That is all I know. Of course, a moment I am waiting for is to represent India at the Olympics. But what next? I don’t know. I just know I will play hockey till my last breath.”

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