New Delhi:At 31, Dilip Tirkey, the impregnable 'Wall' of Indian hockey may not be getting younger, but he still desires to enthrall the home crowd in next year's World Cup and Commonwealth Games before hanging up his boots.
With 404 outings, the soft-spoken defender from Sundargarh, a tribal belt in Orissa, recently became the most capped player in international circuit during the Azlan Shah tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia and Tirkey dedicated the feat to his team-mates and the national sport as a whole.
"I am very happy and it's a big honour for me because there are many big players in world hockey. I want to dedicate this honour to the Indian team and Indian hockey," Tirkey said in an interview.
Although, he is eyeing to play his part in the 2010 World Cup and Commonwealth Games in the Capital before calling it a day, he seemed to take a more practical approach towards his participation in future tournaments.
"Presently, I am thinking of playing atleast one more year because we are hosting the Commonwealth Games and World Cup next year. Any player will want to play such big tournaments before his home crowd because it's a totally different feeling.
"I am just waiting for these two events but at the end of the day everything depends upon my fitness. If my body permits, I will definitely play in these tournaments," said Tirkey, a 2002 Arjuna and 2004 Padma Shri award winner.
He, however, ruled out the possibility of the World Cup being shifted out of India if a democratically elected federation is not set up within six months, a clause put forth by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) President Leandro Negre during his recent visit to India.
Hockey in the country is run by an ad-hoc body appointed by the Indian Olympic Association since the dissolution of the KPS Gill-backed Indian Hockey Federation last year.
But Negre, during his three-day visit here earlier this month to assess the preparation for the World Cup to be held from March 7-20 next year, made it clear that the mega event can't be conducted in the country without an elected body and in that scenario it may be shifted to Malaysia.
"I don't think such a situation will ever come. Top level officials will definitely do something about it because everybody is expecting and looking forward to the World Cup. I don't think they (officials) will let go such an opportunity so easily," the stalwart of Indian hockey said.
Tirkey, only the second adivasi player to captain India in Olympics after Jaipal Singh Munda who achieved the feat during Amsterdam Olympics way back in 1928, rated the Azlan Shah triumph which came after a gap of 13 years, as a confidence booster for the eight-time Olympic champions.
"Azlan Shah victory means a lot for us because any victory gives a boost to the team's confidence. The victory undoubtedly gave boost to all the boys, there are many important tournaments in future like the Asia Cup and the win will definitely give confidence to the team," Tirkey said.
Asked about his expectation from the Asia Cup, which will have a tougher field compared to Azlan Shah tournament, he said, "every tournament is different, every match is different. Asia Cup will be tough for us because there will be strong teams like South Korea, Japan, China.
"Pakistan will also be a tough opponent because we have been hearing that Sohail Abbas is coming back to the Pakistan team in the Asia Cup."
Tirkey also lauded skipper Sandeep Singh for his sterling display in the Azlan Shah Cup and said the young Sardar's spirited comeback to the national team after injuring himself by a stray bullet while traveling in a train a little over two years back speaks volume of his determination.
Sandeep led the team from the front in the just-concluded five-nation tournament in Malaysia and earned the Player of the Tournament award by becoming top scorer with six goals.
"Sandeep has a big heart because to pick up hockey stick again after such a big injury showed his courage and determination. He has done a lot of hardwork. He is doing well and has been scoring goals.
"He is young, and has aggressive captaincy attitude. He is scoring goals and setting example for other players of the team. He is a matchman and has a great future ahead, the former India captain said of his young colleague.
He also spoke highly about coach-in-charge Harendra Singh who took up the reins of Indian hockey team during its darkest period.
"The team is playing well under Harendra. He is a hardworking person and has been putting a lot of hardwork with the boys and the result is before everyone to see, said Tirkey, who represented India in three Olympics starting from 1996 till 2004.