Hockey Perspectives

Karnataka’s National Crown – A Big Boost for Hockey in the South!

Rewind to the 31st National Games held at Punjab in November-December 2001 – the venue Surjit Hockey Stadium, Jallandhar – the last occasion when Karnataka men had reached the final of the National Games when they went down to Services by a solitary goal. It is after a hiatus of 21 years that Karnataka ended their ‘podium finish drought’ winning the men’s hockey crown of the 36th National Games at the Dhyanchand Hockey Stadium in Rajkot.

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The triumph is all the more sweeter for Karnataka men’s hockey team as they have been out of the national limelight for a long period of time. Karnataka lads wrested the initiative with a second-quarter goal from vastly experienced international SV Sunil but Uttar Pradesh caused much sweat in the Karnataka camp with two quick goals in four minutes in the final quarter from Sumit and Manish Yadav. Harish Mutagar salvaged the contest for Karnataka scoring a late equaliser to propel the contest into a shootout, which failed to break the logjam and eventually it was left to Karnataka goalkeeper Jagdeep Dayal to churn out the crucial sudden-death save to send the Karnataka team into raptures.

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Karnataka coach and former Indian midfielder VS Vinaya puts things in perspective. “It’s an amazing win for Karnataka given the fact that we reached the final after a gap of 21 years – we finished runners-up in the 31st National Games at Punjab and settled for the bronze in the in 31st National Games at Manipur. So, to win the national crown is hugely satisfying,” says Vinaya in a chat with Hockey Passion.

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Karnataka had a nice sprinkling of international players and talented youngsters. Captained by Olympian SV Sunil, the team featured 2016 Olympian Nikkin Thimmaiah, Sheshe Gowda and Mohammed Raheel Moussen, who is part of the national camp. Interestingly, Karnataka had locked horns with Uttar Pradesh in the league phase as well and beat them 4-2. “Our first game against Uttar Pradesh gave us a fair idea of what to expect from them Having beaten in the pool phase we were backing themselves to beat them again,” says Vinaya.

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Karnataka went on to ease past Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 3-1, pip Jharkhand 3-2 to make it to the quarterfinal, where they trounced hosts Gujarat 11-2. The VS Vinaya-coached outfit outwitted Haryana 3-1 in the semfinals. Vinaya, who had donned the national jersey from 2002 to 2011, attributed the national triumph to meticulous planning that was in place. “We had a gruelling 40-day camp for 30 probables from which we pruned down the squad to 18. I think we prepared well for the Nationals Games and all the homework done on our opposition also helped.”

The national triumph of is seen not just as a big boost for Karnataka hockey but also for hockey in the Southern region as a whole. It may be worth recalling that Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu had reached the final of the 2021 Senior Men’s Nationals in Bhopal and finished runners-up losing to Haryana in the final. Vinaya, who made 136 international appearances, believes the national crown is just what the doctor ordered for Karnataka hockey. “I think it would provide a big boost to hockey in the South. It is important for teams to reach the semifinals or final of nationals because these are matches watched by the selectors and coaches and players can get noticed as performing in league phase may go unnoticed,” he pointed out.