NEW DELHI: The system left him frustrated, but the desire to propel Indian hockey forward made Terry Walsh continue. However, it was not long before he, like many of his predecessors, succumbed to the system.
Walsh’s resignation is irrevocable because he has solid reasons behind his decision. He, however, insists, “I go back a happy man. I was so privileged to coach the Indian hockey team. I have always held India’s hockey culture in high esteem.
“When I came I did not know where the problem was. Was it the players, the administration, the coaching…? We succeeded in isolating the problems even though there were issues initially. I am ecstatic about what we have been able to achieve. I am really proud, pleased and very happy. If someone said to me right know you are not coming back, I’ll be really happy with that because we have achieved a huge amount. The question is, can you get to the next stage of happiness by winning a medal?
Frank and forthright
The genial and frank Aussie continues. “Can we beat the top three teams (Australia, Germany, Holland) consistently in the world today? No, we are not going to, quite frankly. Twelve months ago, would we have beaten the top six teams in the world consistently? No. We have now moved to a level where we can really compete against the top three. India’s position is growing… learning modern pieces, things like the specifics of pressing and interchange. Take the Asian Games final for instance. Pakistan made around 40 interchanges and India made 70-plus! Was that the reason we won? No. But, it is a clear indication of India’s acceptance of the modern game,” he says.
The recent Asian Games gold medal at Incheon was a step in that direction, the process he had identified. But, work remains. The difference between India and the rest has grown. Where does the problem lie? “In the development programme…,” stresses Walsh.
“There is not enough in the transition period from the sub-junior to senior category, the knowledge that is required to take the player to the next level. So, when you move to the top stage, you discover you have got so much to learn, you carry so many habits from your junior programme you find it tough against the top teams,” says Walsh.
Good times ahead
The Australian coach is convinced good times are in store for India. “The wheel is turning, slowly, but turning. Many of the players possess skills others in the world just don’t have. I am seeing the transition in power and belief that has now begun to come back to Indian hockey. It’s a fantastic group. We have created a trust within the team in all spheres… medical and coaching staff as well as the main group. Everybody works very closely, very harmoniously. Yes, there have been tough times — during the selection process and while training in difficult circumstances — but the group has accepted the decisions that have been made.”
The team has learnt the lessons fast, especially in terms of “understanding the concept of play and being able to implement them. Some of these concepts have been foreign to these guys. Some of them have been playing hockey for more than 15 years. They have dealt with different concepts at various times and been able to develop in the right direction. The part I have taken away from them, unknowingly, because of the discipline needed for these concepts, is the Indian ‘masala’, the fluidity, the creativity, the stuff the Indian people love culturally… the artistic flow of the game. The next challenge is to bring that back without sacrificing the modern concepts.”
Looking ahead, Walsh is brutally frank. “If you continue the same way, you stand no chance. You have to put in place a programme that will give you an opportunity. We are the first one to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. But, the other nations have been implementing high-quality programmes for a long time. If we do things properly, there is a chance.
“We will have a better chance if we make the changes that have been asked for. Without those changes, there is no chance. You can look to get into the top-six by that time. Personally, I have this burning feeling that we have a chance of a medal if things are done properly. That is the excitement. There is a flicker in the distance. Is that flicker growing? That’s the real question…”
For all the good work he has done for Indian hockey in a year’s time, Walsh’s future remains uncertain. “Not sure if I’ll be the coach,” he signs off.