Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu may have felt deeply disappointed at finishing runners-up after being at the doorstep of a title win in the Senior Men’s Nationals at Bhopal before they went down to Hockey Haryana in a shootout in the final after they held the much-fancied Haryana outfit 1-1 in regulation time. The Charles Dixon-coached Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu did not win the Senior Men’s Nationals but surely won many hearts with their tenacious performance throughout the tournament. The manner in which they clawed their way back into the match after conceding an early goal and denied Haryana any more goals in the three quarters showed the confidence and self-belief the Tamil Nadu boys had.
The runners-up performance from the Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu would serve as a big morale-booster for hockey in the state. Not many would know that it was Tamil Nadu’s first final appearance in the Senior Men’s Nationals in 22 years – they had last entered the Senior Men’s Nationals final in 1999 when they lost to Railways. At the 2021 Senior Men’s Nationals at Pune, Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu could not surmount the quarterfinal hurdle as they lost to Hockey Maharashtra 0-2 in a shootout after being tied 2-2 in normal time.
Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu was well served in the tournament by J Joshua Benedict Wesley, Sundarapandi, Saravana Kumar and M Dhanush. Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu was placed in Pool G – they whipped Hockey Himachal and Hockey Madhya Pradesh by 5-0 and 4-0 margins respectively, while they won full points against Manipur Hockey who forfeited the game. The Tamil Nadu lads coasted past Uttar Pradesh Hockey 3-1 in the quarterfinals and got past Hockey Karnataka 3-0 in the semifinals.
It may be worth recalling that Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu had won the ‘B Division of the 2019 Senior Men’s Nationals when they prevailed over Central Secretariat 4-3 in the final played at Chennai – prior to that the Tamil Nadu team had bowed out in the quarterfinal stages of the 2017 and 2018 Senior Men’s Nationals.
Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu President Sekar J Manoharan could not hide his excitement at the impressive run of the state side. “The boys really trained hard for the Senior Nationals – it was a long-drawn camp of 45 days where a lot of focus was put on the fitness of the players. All the hard work paid off as we reached our first national finals in 22 years,” he gushes.
Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu General Secretary Renuka Lakshmi believes the concept of Inter-Departmental Senior Men’s Nationals has been the enabler for state teams to prove their worth in the Nationals. “Earlier state teams had to compete with institutional teams that were formidable and making a podium finish for state sides was exceedingly challenging. The concept of Inter-Departmental Nationals has allowed state teams like Tamil Nadu to showcase their talents in the nationals,” she makes her point.
She was optimistic that the runners-up performance of the state side would open up job opportunities for the players. “I think this performance is huge for Tamil Nadu hockey. Finishing among the top-3 means players would be eligible to land jobs across government entities. Players need job security so that they can play with a free mind and deliver for the state. I’m sure jobs would open up for the state boys in Income Tax, Railaways, AG Office, Central Excise, Indian Overseas Bank among others,” she makes her point.
The final appearance of Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu would also offer a window of opportunity for the state boys to make it to the national team. Currently two state boys are of the ‘A’ team national camp preparing for the Commonwealth Games while one state player is part of the Indian junior men’s national camp. The last player from Tamil Nadu to play for the Indian men’s team as well as in the Olympics is Adam Sinclair. One hopes the robust showing of Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu would trigger a new breed of talents who can make it to the national team and dazzle at major international tournaments.