Malaysian National Junior Coach K. Dharmaraj has a tough task awaiting him in his hometown Malacca. For he has been entrusted to secure a place for Malaysia into the 2013 Junior World Cup in India next November. He knows it is a tough task but he remains confident and optimistic that Malaysia has the players capable of not only sealing a spot in the final round but also win the Asia Cup for the first time in history. Dharma shares in this interview his expectations, the progress and most importantly the faith he has in his players.
Question: Who do you think are the toughest opponents and why?
Answer: I fear my own team's performance than any of the other team. Yes Pakistan has included five senior players in their squad. And I reckon India and Korea too are strong in their own way as they are Olympic playing nations. We have trained very long and are well prepared for this tournament. Having said that the other teams too have undergone preparation so we will take it one match at a time.
Question: Playing at home is never easy for Malaysian teams. Do you think it has it's advantage and disadvantage?
Answer: At times playing at home seems to be more of a disadvantage as pressure increases and there are many distractions playing at home. But the players did well in the Sultan Johor Cup. The crowd increased as we played in Johor. In the end we were champions and the feeling was so great at home. There were more than 8,000 supporters behind us. The match was telecast live and I received hundreds of SMS from all over the country that keeps me strong and motivated.
Question: The fans in Malacca are passionate about hockey. Your message to them?
Answer: I was born here. I completed my school here. I played in all age group tournaments under the guidance of coaches like Terry Lee, K. Machap, Dhorai Raja, the late G. Ravindran and the late Razak Leman. I know how the crowd appreciate good hockey and they would take leave from their jobs to be here for not only to support me but also Mirnawan Nawawi and Nor Azlan Bakar. My message to them - we will play good attacking hockey all the way and bring back the glory of hockey in late 70's till early 90's. Please be at the stadium to support and help us achieve our target of winning the Junior Asia Cup for the first time and qualify for the 2013 Junior World Cup.
Question: How does it feel to coach the juniors and play the qualifier at your home town?
Answer: It is most challenging thing to do for not only do I have to manage my own children but am also entrusted by parents to manage their children who dream of bringing honour to the nation. At times I feel so helpless as I tackle the problems that I face. I am happy as some of the boys who were branded as naughty boys have matured and changed to caring and good human beings. I have always maintained that as a coach, the most important thing is to make players better persons in life as not everybody can be a national player. I am proud as some of the players are close to me as my own children and share and solve problems together. Playing at home is great and thanks to former Secretary General Maninderjit Singh who helped us secure the hosting of the tournament here. Now winning here would be the icing on the cake.
Question: You must have had many pleasant memories in hockey, what are your best and worst moments?
Answer: I have won many tournaments both as a player and as a coach. In 2008 I won Under 16,Under 18,Sukma, Razak Cup MHL League and MHL Overall and the Asian Club Championship. But winning the Sultan of Johor Cup was the best moment of my life. The worst moment was losing to Pakistan in Youth Olympic Qualifier Final 3-4. At club level the experience of losing six consecutive finals in MHL in a row still accounts as something I cannot forget.
Question: Expectations are high after winning the Sultan Johor Cup. Do you think that the team is under pressure?
Answer: To be honest I never thought that we would be champs in Johor. But having been at the helm as coach since 2009, I have had a dream to win the Asian level tournament. This tournament was our target with playing at home provides us with the perfect opportunity to make good the dream. We know the nation has high hopes on the team. We know the pressure as we experienced it in Johor. Hopefully we can cope with the pressure and god willing we will prevail.
Question: Should Malaysia qualify, which players in this team will not be able to play at the Junior World Cup?
Answer: It is always difficult to create or find a good player. Faizal Saari was never in our preparation period as he was already a national player. The rest likes the Mohd Nor Faez Ibrahim, Izat Sumantri ,Amir Farid, Mohd Ramadan and Dedi Aryandi have grown up to be very strong players. For sure I will miss them if we qualify.
Question: You have good assistants and support staff. Your opinion about them and working as a team?
Answer: You look at the team coaching staff and support team one might get a shock. I have two video analyst, one masseur, one Medical Assistant, one Nutritionist, one psychologist and one bio mechanic. In my coaching team of K. Gobinathan, Nor Azlan Bakar and M. Nadarajan as goalkeeper coach. All were there in Johor as well .To me I am strong believer of sharing responsibilities and using the best to master the best. All this would not have been possible without the support, encouragement and blessings of lthe likes of NSC Director General Dato Zolkpless Embong, NSI CEO Dato Dr. Ramlan Abdul Aziz, NSC Elite Division Director Ariffin Ghani and Jefri Ngadrin. I also have to thank Tengku Abdullah Sulatn Ahmad Shah, the President of MHC and Maninderjit Singh who have personally helped the team so much. And the bubble of all is our team manager Mirnawan Nawawi who is always there to help us when needed. The time has come to repay their faith in the team.