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Many reasons for being optimistic
 
Given the fact that Malaysia's hockey has progressed rapidly over the years while that of the Republic has failed to keep pace, it would need an overly optimistic man to believe Singapore can pip its arch rival for the South-east Asia Games gold.

In fact, there are two such men who firmly hold the view that the coveted medal is not beyond reach.

And they should know.

For they played key roles when the Republic's hockey team last clinched the crown.



"In all these years, this is one team that has managed to build up a high team spirit and morale. Each player is committed to playing hard."


-- 1973 skipper Veer Singh


It was exactly two decades ago when Veer Singh, then 28, led Singapore's men to the unthinkable task of defeating Malaysia 2-0 in a replay of the final after the teams were deadlocked 0-0 in the first tie.

And midfield maestro M. Jeevanathan, then only 17, showed why he was regarded as one of the most talented players when he distinguished himself in the Sea Games series.

Now, as the competition moves from the grass of Jalan Besar Stadium to the artificial turf at Delta Sports Complex, these two men believe Singapore has a realistic chance of reliving the glory.

The sentiments expressed by Veer and Jeeva are not based entirely on passion.

"This year's squad is the only one, since the 70's, that has trained together for more than a month," said Jeeva. "We have very dedicated players and some of them start training at six in the morning before rushing off to work."

Added Veer: "In all these years, this is one team that has managed to build up a high team spirit and morale. Each player is committed to playing hard." However, both believe the medal will not come easy. The duo point out that the Malaysians have enormous international experience while the Republic's team has been deprived of this exposure.

"The present team is fit," comments Veer. "If they play according to instructions and take their chances well, we will have a 50-50 chance. "We have players who are fighting to get a place in the team. Nothing is confirmed for any player."

He singled out for mention two players - Gavin van Rooyen and Ranjit Singh - whom he felt were very good individual ball players but he added that the duo managed to blend well into the team. Jeeva says that the team's dedication is exemplified by the fact that none of the 16 players short-listed wanted to opt out.

"This shows they want to play for the country," he said. "They have been fairly regular at training sessions despite constraints and they have shown utmost commitment." He feels any comparison between the present team and that of the 1973 victorious squad is unrealistic.

"It is a different game altogether," he says. "Playing on grass and in turf require two different playing styles. Any comparison is inappropriate." Jeeva feels that playing at home will prove a valuable advantage.


"We have very dedicated players and some of them start training at six in the morning before rushing off to work ... This shows they want to play for the country. They have been fairly regular at training sessions despite constraints and they have shown utmost commitment."



"The team will feel more comfortable and hopefully, we will also get a good crowd to cheer the boys," he said. For the record, Singapore's 1973 victory was achieved with goals from right-half Arul Subramaniam and left winger Naginder Singh.

The chances of repeating this phenomenal victory may seem improbable. But if the words of encouragement from Veer and Jeeva are anything to go by, then perhaps history might just repeat itself. And hockey would be provided the appropriate fillip to re-establish itself.
     

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