HIL good prep for Rio Olympics
Tony de Souza reflects on HIL 2016
Australian Kookaburra players have embraced the Coal Hockey India league as a stepping stone for their advancing skills in the Asian sub continent and preparations for major tournaments such as the Rio Olympics coming up in August
The month long competition has also given the Australian players much needed experience playing in humid Indian conditions besides getting to know a new culture and also earning extra money hence making some of the players now semi-professionals.
The league, which was in its fourth year, was also a major boost for Australian hockey as it also involved current and aspiring Australian hockey players, Australian coaches and officials and the media with former Hockeyroo Kate Hollywood commentating for India’s Star Sports, which was televising the Indian league live and on Fox Sports.
Tristan White, Kookaburra and Wollongong player, who played for the third placed Delhi Waveriders, said the Indian league was definitely growing in value to world hockey.
"It is developing world hockey and creating an exciting brand of hockey that is accessible for fans all over the world to watch."
This Hockey India League has definitely taken over the reins of other overseas leagues such as the Dutch, Spanish and English where other Kookaburra players are also involved and trying to make a living from.
Delhi's Shivaji hockey stadium was an electrifying place to be when I was there for the home team's game against the defending champions Ranchi in their second pool match
The atmosphere was similar to a Twenty20 cricket game when fire crackers went off every time Delhi scored and their fans went wild creating such noise and cheers that the home team won the game 7-4 after a dismal start in the competition
Delhi, who won the league in 2014, were spurred on with this win and went on to beat the Kalinga Lancers 6-0 in their next game and qualify for the semi-finals.
The next day I moved to Mumbai at the Mahindras hockey stadium where the home team, Dabang Mumbai were facing the favourites the Jaypee Punjab Warriors, coached by former Australian Olympic winning coach Barry Dancer.
This stadium, formerly called the Bombay Hockey Association ground, was the venue for the 1982 Hockey World Cup together with the neighbouring Wankhede Test cricket ground a few metres away in Mumbai.
This match saw the mighty strong Punjab Warriors led by Australian captain Mark Knowles easily beat the Mumbai team 6-1.
The Mumbai team was coached by another former Australian and Olympian player Jay Stacy and led by Queenslander Mathew Swann who scored Mumbai's only consolation goal in the final minute of play.
Definitely, the name of the Mumbai team did not exhibit its true meaning with the team finishing second from the bottom and failing to qualify for the semis. Dabang is an Indian expression symbolising the fighting and winning spirit of the Maharashtra region where Mumbai city is based.
The conclusion of the league moved to Ranchi, home of the Ranchi Rays who were favoured to win the competition after topping the table with seven wins and playing in front of their home fans.
But, it was not to be.
In the first semi-final, Ranchi lost to the Kalinga Lancers in a dramatic shoot-out after a 2-2 draw, and the Delhi Waveriders succumbed to the Punjab Warriors 3-1.
To add further embarassment to the Ranchi team playing at home, they lost the bronze medal match to Delhi 2-0 with Mandeep Singh scoring the only field goal in the second quarter which counted as two goals in the new goal scoring format.
Tristan White, the only Australian in the Delhi team, was very happy to walk away with a podium finish.
He said after the game,” I remember saying to the team after we lost the semi-final that ‘ I’m not finishing fourth, so let’s just go and win this one’!”
“So, that’s what we did. We played relaxed and with a bit of flair and we dominated the game, the score line didn’t show our domination. Nice to finish the tournament on a winning note but was disappointing that we missed the chance to win the tournament but good signs for next season.”
But a disappointing end for young Kookaburra Flynn Ogilvie in his debut season for Ranchi and other Kookaburras Trent Mitton and Fergus Kavanagh but looking forward for next season.
Expectedly, the Punjab Warriors, with seven Kookaburras in their line-up including Indian captain Sardar Singh overpowered the Kalinga Lancers 6-1 in the final with three great field goals from Armaan Quereshi, Matt Ghodes and Satbir Singh.
Another sad episode for the Kalinga team with five Kookaburra players and Australian coach of New Zealand Mark Hager but happy memories for their top goal scorer and Kookaburra Glenn Turner from Goulburn.
Tony De Souza is the hockey writer for the Wollongong Advertiser and contributor for the Illawarra Mercury and Agencies