Profiling the incandescent career of rise to the status of an icon in contemporary hockey can be a fascinating exercise. The soft-spoken, unflappable Dilip Tirkey (IND) fits the bill to a nicety. That he has emerged as the world's highest capped player in the game's history (he recently passed 403 caps) represents a saga that underlines the single minded devotion to conquering various odds, genuine and, more often created, in a span of nearly two decades of competitive hockey.
By S. Thyagarajan
From the pastoral ambience of Sundergarh in the remote adivasi hamelets of Orissa to the height of Olympics--three times from 1996--the life and times of Dilip Tirkey conveys the journey littered with challenges all through.
It would be somewhat unsentimental to measure the career graph of Tirkey in terms of numbers, which are only a statisticians’ delight. True, the facts and figures project a part of the player's profile and personality, but in the case of Tirkey it is not merely the 400-odd caps that purvey the ebb and flow of a brilliant career, but the qualitative contribution to the team as much as the sport.
For the 29-year old, hockey is an expression of the inner urge to surge ahead and lead towards the goal. As the defender, Tirkey has always been a difficult challenger to overcome regardless of the quality and content of the opposition. Any forward who had played against or along with him would vouchsafe what a tough nut he was to crack.
Endowed with an excellent physique built on playing on the difficult hard mud tracks across his village and towns, Tirkey's graviation to the cities had been gradual but definite. All along, he gained more and more polish to his approach work, always endeavoring to achieve that acme of perfection, and acquiring the sophistication to meet the demands of modern hockey.
A career data of three Olympics Games (1996, 2000, 2004), and an equal number of World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006), four Champions Trophy events (1996, 2002, 2003, 2004), three Asian Games (1998, 2002, 2006), three Asia Cups (1999, 2003, 2007) and one Commonwealth Games in 1998, and a cornucopia of international matches across the globe, is a fascinating document for any player to cherish. Tirkey had made a mark in almost every continent and all major hockey playing countries.
It is a matter of credit that Dilip Tirkey never missed a single international between 1995 and 2001, thus underscoring his consistency of form, physical fitness and the mental toughness to confront the challenges ahead. And what more, he had the distinction of leading the country-the second adivasi to be at the helm, the first being Jaipal Singh in 1928 at Amsterdam where India made its Olympic debut.
Never known to have an uttered a wrong sentence, or getting embroiled in controversies, which abound in Indian hockey, Tirkey needs to be taken as a model. Whether leading the pack or not, he has never been found wanting to give of his best.
If there is an example for posterity on how hard work, dedication and determination can contribute to reach the higher echelons in any walk of life, the success story of Dilip Tirkey is there for all to see.