If you belong to Saunamara, you cannot stay away from hockey. The village in Sundergarh district of Odisha is best known for its passion for the sport and, of course, Dilip Tirkey.
No wonder, then, that Indian junior vice-captain Dipsan Tirkey picked up the stick early and, in the footsteps of his idol, dreamt of wearing India colours one day. As one of the most decorated and respected defenders of all times in international hockey, Dilip put Odisha on the world sporting map and now Dipsan hopes to do the same.
“Most of the people in my village are farmers and the rest have jobs in the city. There are more hockey players from there than anything else because it is the most popular sport locally. There is hardly any other sport that anyone plays,” a shy Dipsan says, adding that Dilip, now a Rajya Sabha member, was not just an icon but a legend back home.
With his elder brother Prashant also a hockey player, Dipsan didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. Having started early, it was all fun for the 19-year old, till he enrolled into the State Sports Hostel in Rourkela. “I didn’t know much about the rules of the game or anything before 2009, when I joined the sports hostel and started proper training. Since 2014, when I was called up for the junior team, I have been in the national camp,” he explains.
His first meeting with his idol was in 2010 as a hostel trainee but admits Dilip didn’t remember him when they met again. But Dipsan can vividly recall that first encounter. “It was amazing to meet him, for us he is the greatest player in the world. He had come to meet us and it felt good, there was more interest in the game then and also the dream that one day we will be like him, play like him, play for India
The next time the two met was during the Hockey India League last year when, as mentor for Kalinga Lancers, Dilip interacted with the team’s players, Dipsan being one of them. “I had asked him on how to improve my game and the areas to work on. He talked about how tackling is the main thing in a good defence and also practised with the team. I did not tell him about the 2010 meeting, though,” Dipsan admits. Dilip, though, did get to know later and met Dipsan again, passing tips and words of encouragement.
As part of a strong defensive line in the Junior Indian team here, full-back Dipsan has been impressive with his clean tackling and calm control but his silent warrior role is a complete contrast to the two players on his either side — Varun Kumar and Harmanpreet Singh — who are more flamboyant and have a flair of being in the spotlight.
“This defence set-up has been playing together for almost two and half years now so we all know everything about each other. Who plays how and where, the combination is very good. If one goes up then the other falls back, the understanding is there,” he says, adding that they had a lot of off-field fun despite the difference in personalities.
With the region back home afflicted with insurgency and a lot of extremism, Dilip is currently organising a rural hockey festival with close to 1500 teams drawn from Odisha, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. Dipsan admits such an effort would help make the game even more popular and try to wean people off arms.
“It will make a difference because after this even more people will get to know about it. They are highlighting it a lot in the local areas and I think the winners will also be brought to Rourkela for training, which will help people know of hockey and its importance,” says the youngster who is currently on a stipend with BPCL.
A title triumph here would be equally helpful, giving Dipsan the one thing his idol never had – a world title.