Off-pitch fires for Singapore's hockey men
There were nudges in ribs, good-natured ribbing about everything from socks to sticks and much laughter at the sidelines of the Seonhak Hockey Stadium yesterday, when the Republic's hockey men had a first look at the arena where they will fight their battles at the Incheon Asian Games.
Looking at the team, you couldn't tell that they were already fighting battles - off the pitch.
One player, Farhan Kamsani, has had to fly back to Singapore to attend the funeral of his fiancee's mother, and will rejoin the team only tomorrow.
Another, key forward Enrico Marican, is still struggling with a hamstring injury that could see him play only a bit-part role in the tourney.
While National Service issues are part and parcel of the Republic's landscape, at least the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) managed to obtain permission for Johnson Sivalingam to come to the Asiad, although he will link up with the team only tomorrow.
Coach Solomon Casoojee revealed that tomorrow will be the first time that he will have his full squad together, ahead of Saturday's Group A opener against Malaysia in Group A.
"The first time we will have the entire team together is on the 17th, but one of the strengths of this team is the ability to cope, and move on," Casoojee told The New Paper yesterday.
In their bid to get to the Asian Games, the team have already shown their mettle.
They qualified on merit by finishing fourth at the Asian Games Hockey Qualifiers in March. But it did not pass muster with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) selectors, who required teams to show that they were competitive against opponents ranked sixth in Asia.
The Singapore side then travelled - twice - to Oman to fulfil that very task, and eventually succeeded by beating the Middle East side twice, on their second trip.
It has been a tough journey to get to Incheon.
Instead of focusing on Malaysia, more uncertainty has cropped up.
But they are taking it in their stride, and indeed, have gotten closer and, maybe even stronger, in the face of adversity.
Speaking from Singapore, Farhan was grateful that the team allowed him some time-off to deal with his bereavement.
"There is a family atmosphere in the team, and I really have to thank Solomon and the boys for their understanding to allow me to return to be with my fiancee during this tough time," said Farhan, who found out about the death just after alighting from the plane at the Incheon Airport.
"My performances might have been affected if I had remained there, but being here (Singapore) to attend prayers and the funeral, I feel a little better. I'm determined to put all this behind and switch back to competition mode when I rejoin the team."
Farhan's commitment to the team was echoed by the lads who are here.
"It's been hard but worth it, for the camaraderie, the memories and experiences that I have got, and will have, with these guys - you can't get this any other way," said Nanyang Technological University medical student Ishwarpal Singh.
While there were some hiccups on the sidelines, there was a distinct change in mood once the team stepped out onto the pitch yesterday.
"There's a lot of talk, a lot of noise and a lot of communication within the team. The vibes are good, and we're looking forward to getting started," said Silas Abdul Razak.
"But we are serious. We want to prove that we can compete, not only at the South-east Asian level, but also with the best in Asia."
"There’s a lot of talk, a lot of noise and a lot of communication within the team. The vibes are good, and we’re looking forward to getting started."
- Singapore’s Silas Abdul Razak