On his own turf

sibi arasu | Updated on January 24, 2018

Eye on the ball: Skipper of the Punjab Warriors, Jamie Dwyer (left) in action against Sardar Singh of the Delhi Waveriders, at Mohali earlier this month. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar   -  THE HINDU;THE HINDU

Jamie Dwyer of Australia looks on during the match between Australia and Netherlands in the six-nation Champions Trophy hockey tournament at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai on December 14, 2005. Photo: Vino John

Australian hockey great Jamie Dwyer on playing at home and away, and on his current goalposts in India as a Punjab Warrior

Only in Australia can you have a nickname like ‘foetus’ and still aspire to greatness. Ask Jamie Dwyer. “The name kind of caught on because I was only 13 when I was playing for the under-17 team, and I was really small then,” says Dwyer, 36, five-time world hockey player of the year and a privileged member of the ‘Best of the Best’ at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) — joining the ranks of cricketer Ricky Ponting, Todd Woodbridge, the tennis doubles great, and Mark Viduka, the country’s best-known football export.

Playing for the Punjab Warriors now, Dwyer and his team have come agonisingly close to lifting the Hockey India League (HIL) cup in the first two seasons — they reached the semi-final in the inaugural contest in 2013 and lost out in the finals last year at the penalty shootout stage. “The first year was quite difficult, especially since we were staying well outside Jalandhar [away from Surjit Hockey Stadium, their home ground in the first season] and in general, had to travel a lot. That took a toll on us,” says Dwyer, when we meet him in Delhi before a training session. “This year has been going pretty well, but the semis are always tough, so let’s see.”

From Perth to Punjab

A child prodigy, Dwyer seems to have been destined for a career in international sports. Growing up at Rockhampton in Queensland, with a total population of 73,000-odd people, he is a shining example of the efficiency of the Australian sporting system at large. “When I was 15, I was offered an opportunity to go to university on a cricket scholarship, but I didn’t want to take it up. I wanted to go to the Olympic Games,” says Dwyer, adding, “In any case, hockey was more my kind of game. It has a faster pace, and while I really enjoy cricket, hockey just suited my style better.”

Dwyer pursued his hockey career under the aegis of the AIS, which was established in 1981 to train and nurture the country’s best athletes. “I think the structure of the Aussie system is quite good. There is a gradual incline to reach the top with stepping stones all along the way, which helps,” says Dwyer. “It gives everyone in Australia a chance to pick up a sport they like, and if they have potential, they can maybe play for their country one day.”

One of the greatest exponents of AIS, Dwyer has often led Australia to hockey glory. In 250 international games, Dwyer has scored more than 170 goals and has won more than 14 gold medals for Australia at the Olympics, the Hockey World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, among others. Dwyer had also scored the winning goal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, which broke Australia’s 48-year gold drought in Olympic hockey.

In a nation as cricket-obsessed as India, recognition was harder to come by for Dwyer, compared to his contemporaries in cricket. “All our heroes while growing up were cricket players — Dean Jones, Allan Border, Ricky Ponting; everyone knew them. If you didn’t play hockey though, you didn’t know the hockey greats. A lot like here actually,” says Dwyer.

In 2004, Dwyer began playing for HC Bloemendaal in the Dutch league, and became a household name for hockey fans across Europe. “My club won every year while I was there, and I met my wife in the Netherlands. So yeah, every year I just kept going back till I joined the Warriors in India,” says Dwyer.

Professional goals

Playing a game that has witnessed a sea of change over the last decade, Dwyer has had to adapt to the changing styles. But having played across continents has made him stronger. “The new rules make the game so much faster. There are more substitutions as well. Earlier, you played the full 70 minutes in a match, but now you can come on and off the bench,” says Dwyer, adding, “HIL though has really set a grand stage for hockey. It’s definitely the best hockey league in the world now.”

In his three years with the Warriors, Dwyer has been instrumental in shaping the team’s game. “You see, the European and Indian styles are a bit different. In Europe, it’s more about protecting the ball, while in India it’s about skill and running fast with the ball. Australia though is a mix of both. We like to be entertaining, score a lot of goals. But on the other hand, we don’t want to turn the ball over so easily as well,” he says.

Dwyer, who has achieved pretty much all that a pro-player can in hockey, is now waiting for a chance at gold at the Rio Summer Olympics, 2016 — he intends it to be his swan song.

“For me though, it has never been about being the world’s best, but more about being the best that I can be. I can honestly say, when I walk away from hockey,” says Dwyer, “I can look back and feel proud that I have played the best hockey that I could have.”

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Published on February 20, 2015
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