Ignace Tirkey, Odisha’s Pride Who Won India Their Maiden Asia Cup

This Is The Second Of A Series Odisha Bytes Is Running On Hockey Greats From Odisha, Ahead Of The Upcoming FIH Men’s World Cup To Be Co-Hosted By Bhubaneswar & Rourkela

When Odisha first hosted the Men’s World Cup hockey in 2018, Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium staged all the matches. The showpiece event is back at the ‘Home of Indian hockey’, with a major difference – there will be two venues this time.

It’s apt that Rourkela will co-host the mega sporting event along with Bhubaneswar.

Rourkela, which boasts of the newly-constructed Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium, is, after all, part of Sundargarh district, which can claim to be the ‘cradle of Indian hockey.

One such famous Sundargarh product is two-time Olympian Ignace Tirkey, who won over 250 international caps between 2001 and 2012.

Born in Lulkidihi village on May 10, 1981, Ignace honed his skills at Panposh Sports Hostel, Rourkela. Indian Army scouts took him under their wings to help him pursue a career in hockey.

He joined MEG, Indian Army, as a hawaldar in 1998, and represented Services in Junior and Senior Nationals team by virtue of his employment. Honoured with the Services Sportsperson of the Year award in 2004, Ignace led the team to the 2015 National Games gold.

A formidable full-back who could operate in the midfield also, as and when required, Ignace found the love of his life from hockey itself – getting married to Masira Surin, an India women’s international from Jharkhand.

Having made his international debut in a Cairo tournament as a teenager, Ignace soon established himself as a dependable member of the national team. One of the highlights of his career came in September 2003, when he played a stellar role in India’s maiden Asia Cup triumph, that too, against Pakistan.

With the two arch-rivals tied 2-2 in regulation time, Ignace advanced down the right flank, entered the striking circle and unleashed a stinging hit which went through the legs of Sohail Abbas, giving goalkeeper Ahmad Alam no chance. India scored one more in extra time to win 4-2, and Ignace was deservingly adjudged Player of the Final.

Once the Asia Cup jinx was broken, India went on to clinch back-to-back titles two years later in Chennai, this time under the leadership of his younger brother Prabodh Tirkey.

A hard-working, no frills player, Ignace, however, missed out on Olympic glory, with India finishing seventh in the 2004 Athens Games. Back in Olympic fold after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games, Ignace and his teammates hit rock bottom in the 2012 London Olympics – finishing 12th and last.

In between, Ignace had the distinction of leading India in 2006 – in the Test series against Pakistan and then in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Both were hard-fought assignments, with Indian losing 1-3 to Pakistan in the six-match series and finishing 6th in Commonwealth Games where they were edged out by Malaysia to a semifinal spot on goals scored, after both teams tied on points and goal difference.

Now retired, the 41-year-old Padma Shri, Arjuna awardee and Eklavya Puraskar winner is currently serving as Commissioned Officer in MEG, holding the rank of Captain.

It may not be long before the pride of Sundargarh decides to take up coaching or some other role in the sport which has given him so much fame.

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