Competitive hockey will miss the charisma and competence of Dilip Tirkey, who bid adieu to international hockey on Sunday. A shining symbol of adivasi resurgence in sports, Tirkey's career graph, from the pastoral ambience of the remote villages in the Sundargarh districts to the pinnacle of Olympics — three in a row from 1996 to 2004, and as captain in the third at Athens — is testimony to the reward for hard work, determination and pure proficiency.
The life and times of this unflappable Orissa stalwart offers a poignant study of the trials and tribulations of players making it to the big league consistently for years from the remote areas of the country.
What sustained him in the high voltage fare of world hockey, as a defender with a penchant for intrepid interceptions and crafty hits in penalty corners, was the unalloyed natural flair coupled with the unflinching urge to take heavy load.
Most capped player
That Tirkey emerged as the most capped player in the world — 403 to be exact — portrays the level of his endurance and fitness.
His passion remains undiminished even when he prefers to call it a day.
Statistics clearly enhance Tirkey's profile. At 32, his credentials are envious.
He had donned India colours in three Olympics, three World Championships (1998-2006, captain in Monchengladbach), four Champions Trophy events (1996-2004), three Asian Games, including the one in 1998 where India won the gold in Bangkok, three Asia Cup Championships from 1999 to 2007 and the Commonwealth Games in 1998 at Kuala Lumpur.
Besides there have been a huge number of internationals including the 1995 SAF Games and Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad.
He was the recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2001 and Padma Shri in 2004.
Between 1995and 2001, Tirkey never missed an international match, thus underlining his fitness as well as form. In the illustrious career stretching nearly a decade and half, never has Tirkey been in the epicentre of any controversy.
There have been times when he was elevated as captain and then pushed down to the role of a mere player.
He accepted everything with a philosophical resignation.
He always strove to give his best, uninfluenced by the highs and lows that are part and parcel of a sportsman's career.
The hockey community needs to learn a lot in the ebb and flow of Tirkey's rise to fame, and must utilise the expertise of this seasoned veteran in a positive way. Tirkey cannot be allowed to fade away.
An icon in a true sense of the word, he played the sport with great reverence highlighting the tradition and ethos that Indian hockey is noted and admired for.