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Sreejesh determined to cap storied career with 'defining' Olympic gold in Paris

Published at :April 14, 2024 at 3:20 PM
Modified at :April 14, 2024 at 3:20 PM
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(Courtesy : Hockey India)

Anmol Kakkar

Indian men’s hockey team goalkeeper, PR Sreejesh, also spoke about the challenge of facing nemesis Australia.

PR Sreejesh, the face of the Indian hockey team, played a crucial role in helping India win the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The crucial save in the dying seconds against Germany still gives fans goosebumps.

The team had a decent Pro League outing, having won three matches and lost one, with four matches ending in a draw, and is currently in the third position. Having already booked their place for Paris Olympics by winning the gold at the Asian Games, India has been placed in group B at the Olympics with Australia, Ireland, Belgium, New Zealand, and Argentina. India will also kickstart their campaign against New Zealand on 27 July 2024.

Khel now had a chance to speak with the Indian goalkeeper and senior pro who is confident that the team will do well at the Paris Olympics.

Here are the excerpts from the conversation.

“How’s the team preparation for the Paris Olympics going?”

The preparation is going well. We might play a couple of test series before the Olympics start. Throughout the last year, our main target was the Asian Games, and now that we have secured the quota from there, we have shifted our focus to the Olympics.

“The eight pro league matches which recently concluded were really good. We tried new players and new strategies. A lot of good things happened, and there are many takeaways from those eight matches. We are at the end of the preparation, and now it’s time for revision and polishing our skills. We are in the last phase of our preparation, and we are on the right track.”

“How are European conditions different from that of Tokyo, and how are you preparing for it in light of Paris Olympics 2024?”

“It’s normally a cold summer only, and I believe it will be the same for Paris. It won’t be like the Asian summer. Irrespective of the climate, the atmosphere, pressure, and wind will almost be the same. I believe that before the Olympics, we might train somewhere in Europe, which is going to be a positive sign so that we can acclimate to the situation and be ready for the climate where we are going to play.

“The Olympics is always a different platform compared to any other tournament, so whether we are playing in Europe or Asia, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s all about us and how we play in the tournament. We will have enough time to prepare in European conditions.”

“How is the current coach Craig Fulton different from Graham Reid and what’s his impact on the team’s preparation for Paris 2024?”

“Every coach has their pros and cons; they have their own style, trust, and system. Craig has played with South Africa and worked with Ireland and Belgium, so he has the mix-up of all these flavours. Before him, Graham Reid was there, who was from Australia and had a different mentality.

They want to play attacking hockey and believe in it, while Craig’s mentality is to play defensive hockey. We focus more on our defence, and even if we score one goal, we have to defend that one goal and win the match.

“The coaches always come up with a plan. His plan is different from Graham’s plan. We can’t say his plan is better than the other plan because he knows his plan, and Graham knows his plan. We now have a bunch of good players in the squad. The team is playing well under him, and we are expecting to perform well in the Paris Olympics.”

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“India has figured out how to play against every nation but Australia. Is it a mental block or something very different which is currently causing issues for the team?”

“The way of playing is different; Australia is a team that likes to play attacking hockey, while other countries play more zonal hockey, which is a kind of defensive structure. Also, Australia is a team that capitalizes on the opposition’s mistakes rather than creating chances themselves.

This is what we need to focus more on because when you are playing against a team like Australia, you should not commit any silly mistakes and give them that opportunity to hurt us. If we execute our basics properly against them, then the chances of them scoring will be reduced.

“It’s not like we haven’t beaten them. In the last pro league, we drew with them, and before that, we have beaten them. So, it’s not about a mental problem, but it’s about the strategies and the way we apply them on the field on that particular day. Since Paris is around the corner, we are looking at the team; they are also in our pool. We feel that we can meet them again, either in the semifinals or finals. We will work on it to find out where we lacked, and we will bounce back stronger.”

“Looking back at your career, what would you say was your most defining moment as a hockey player?”

“I am still waiting for the defining moment of my career, and I believe it will be the gold in Paris.”

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