Bhubaneswar:Standing on the threshhold of becoming the most capped international hockey player of all time, veteran Dilip Tirkey said he draws inspiration from greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes and Bhaichung Bhutia who are still going strong despite their age.
The 31-year-old Indian defender's participation in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in April will take him past the former Dutch captain Jeroen Delmee, who retired after representing his country in 401 matches.
"It will be an honour for me (to become the most capped international hockey player). There is lot of pride attached with this and it will be of great value," Tirkey said before he left for Bhopal to attend the national camp ahead of the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament.
"I always give my 100 per cent, whenever I enter the field. It's probably my destiny and luck that I've conducted myself so well for such a long time," he added.
Tirkey, who debuted against England in 1995, said he always looked up to greats in other sporting disciplines like Tendulkar, Paes and Bhutia, who have maintained high standards both mentally and physically.
"They have always inspired me. The way Tendulkar has maintained his greatness, it's something you can always look up to. Looking at Paes, he's playing so well and is so fit. The same for the Indian football captain Bhutia. I get lot of inspiration from them. Their mental and physical state really motivate me," he said.
"They all belong to different sports. Cricket, tennis, football and hockey are all very different from each other. But fitness is required for every sport," he added. However, Tirkey's journey so far has not been smooth as an ankle injury forced him out of action for few months before he made a comeback in the Murugappa Cup after a long stint with athletics coach Arun Das.
"For about eight months, I was out of action after hurting my ankle. It was very difficult but my fitness trainer and athletics coach helped me a lot to make a comeback. I am really thankful to them," said Tirkey, fresh from his stunning show in India's 1-0 series win over New Zealand.
Tirkey, who represented India in 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics, said he still regretted India's show in Sydney. "We failed to make the semis despite a good run. A 1-1 draw (against Poland) cost us dear as we finished seventh after a 3-1 win against Argentina in the classification match. That's really sad."
He was also very disappointed when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics after going down to Great Britain in the qualifiers in Chile last year.
"We did well overall but it was in the qualifiers where the team was not consistent to shut the door on Beijing 2008. One bad run and it was end of it. We have to be consistent at this level and shouldn't lose out to any weak teams," he said.
"The players have recovered from the setback. It's time now that we get support from federation to take the sport forward. We have a very good young and talented side now. The juniors have a lot of potential and there are seniors also. I am sure we will do well in the two big upcoming events - the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games," he added.
Asked to pick his memorable moments, Tirkey said, "We won the Afro-Asian Games in 2003 beating Pakistan when I was the captain. It always ranks higher. Then there's of course our wins in the Asian Games (1998) and Asia Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2007 that figure prominently in my memory."
According to K Arumugam, who has written the biography, 'Olympic Captain Dilip Tirkey', three-time Olympian Tirkey will become the most-capped player of all time if he plays in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.
The India team, which will be picked during the national camp in Bhopal, will compete against Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Egypt in the tournament.