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Amazing twist and turns in Ignace career (1/3/2013)
--Shailesh
We ran a series 'New Face -New Force'. While the new faces add much needed freshness and dynamism to the national team, there are a few faces who never fade, continue to ooze confidence by virtue of their persistence and commitment. Ignace Tirkey is one such enduring face of contemporary hockey. For those who thought he is a spent force', he continues to defy, hog the limelight, instead. But not long ago, he was reduced to a run of the mill former stuff, and now with the HIL, he is born again. Read for yourself to know the twist and turns of the career of this amazing player.

It was 2010. The headquarters of the Commonwealth Games organizing committee was the hot spot for everything associated with sports in India at that time. The country was going euphoric over India’s sporting success (on field) and outraged at the innumerable scams and scandals (off field).

One man, quite ordinary, was desperately trying to get a ticket to watch India’s hockey matches. He was not being allowed inside the hallowed portals of the OC building and his pleas been ignored by every power-that-be.

A few journalists who recognized him asked him his problem and helped him get a ticket, after calling up several officials – people who were responsible for conducting the Games and were power-drunk – that too, a single ticket, for the cheapest stands, which he quietly took and watched the games.

undefined The man was Ignace Tirkey, Indian hockey’s best defender since Oriya team mate Dilip Tirkey, an Arjuna awardee and honoured with a Padmashri the same year. He had been out in the wilderness since the 2009 Punjab Gold Cup and, despite the two major honours, had all but decided to quit international hockey.

“Ab nahi khelna hai, ab to bas bahut ho gaya, retire ho jayenge, department ke liye khelenge (he’s employed with the Indian Army)” Ignace had said then.

Cut to the player’s auction for the inaugural edition of the much-hyped Hockey India League last week, where the Punjab Warriors franchise added Ignace to their team list for a price of $31,000, against a base price of $13,900, after some aggressive bidding.

Life seems to have come a full circle for Ignace.

Having led India at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Ignace was out of the team because of injuries, coming back for the Punjab Gold Cup in 2009. He was again ignored for two years before getting a second lease of life in 2011, returning to the Indian side for the Asian Champions Trophy, which India won.

He then made then cut for the Indian team at the London Olympics and, despite being the seniormost in the side, was one of the very few players to impress and come out unscathed in India’s otherwise disastrous campaign.

At the auction, he went for a far greater amount than many other rising young stars of the national team, and many of the international stars as well. At 33, he was one of the seniormost players in the auction. But the price he commanded proves there is still a lot he can contribute to Indian hockey, not the least teaching quite a few lessons to the newcomers on work ethics, hard work and discipline.

A senior fellow journalist who was witness to the Indian team’s training sessions in Pune before leaving for the Olympics told me: “There were quite a few tests to gauge the players’ fitness. One of them was something akin to a rowing machine under reduced oxygen levels. There was a base limit which the players had to maintain, and even the fittest Indian player could only touch it in the mandatory five minutes they had to do it. Ignace was the last to get on it, and everyone was having a good laugh, saying how this old man would not be able to do it for even a minute. But two minutes into the exercise, there was total silence. This old man was going way above the base limit, constantly, and he maintained that level for the entire five minutes. And then he got off the machine, ready for more.”

Hearing the amount he got at the auction, the response would have been something similar among the younger lot.

They still have a long way to go before competing with the ‘old man’ of Indian hockey.

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