'If you take it from 2008 till 2016, the low point for Indian hockey was 2008 when we failed to qualify. In 2012, we finished last, and in 2016 we finished eighth. I feel this time we will improve and prove ourselves.'
India hockey star P R Sreejesh feels that goalkeepers are like wine which gets tastier if kept longer, reflecting on his illustrious career from warming the bench to becoming one of the best in the world.
Sreejesh said the setbacks in the early part of his career taught him lessons to take failures as stepping stones to success.
"The first few years were quite hard for me. It took time for me to understand what exactly is international hockey. With time the game has changed, the game has got faster, so every tournament teaches you something," Sreejesh said.
"When I started my career I used to concede a lot of goals but still every one had faith in me, they kept motivating me. The best part of a goalkeeper is that when you are the second choice you get to gain a lot of experience by sitting outside and watching. I am very much grateful to my seniors for their advises and suggestions," he said.
"And this is where I am today after overcoming all the obstacles. Goalkeepers are like wine, the longer you keep it, the better it tastes."
At 33, Sreejesh is at the twilight of his career but the lanky custodian from Kerala has not planned anything yet about his future.
"I am not planning anything yet because now it's more important to focus on Olympics and after that how the circumstances will be we don't know. So, it's all about short-term goals," the he replied when asked about his retirement plans after Olympics.
"For me the next focus is FIH Pro League where we are going to meet a lot of tough opponents. When it comes to a senior-most player you need to keep short goals all the time to sharpen yourself and perform your best," Sreejesh added.
The former India captain feels that the country has left behind the lean patch of 2008-2012 and predicted a much-improved show in the Tokyo Games than any of the last few Olympics.
India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and four years later, the team finished last in the London Games. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, India bowed out in the quarter-finals.
"If you take it from 2008 till 2016, the low point for Indian hockey was 2008 when we failed to qualify. In 2012, we finished last, and in 2016 we finished eighth. I feel this time we will improve and prove ourselves."
India qualified for Tokyo Olympics after beating Russia 11-3 on aggregate in Bhubaneswar on Saturday, and Sreejesh, regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of the world, is expected to man the Indian goal at the Tokyo Games next year.
"It's a great thing for us that we are going to Tokyo. After every tournament we analyse ourselves and in this tournament we got a very good lesson that we can't underestimate any team," said Sreejesh, known as the 'wall of Indian hockey'.
After opting out in its maiden season last year, India will make its debut in the FIH Pro League against the Netherlands in a home fixture on January 18 and 19.
The Pro League involves nine teams in men's and women's sections, each playing on home and away basis on a two-year schedule.
India will host their first six matches. After facing the Dutch, they will take on Belgium on February 8-9 followed by matches against defending champions and World No. 1 Australia on February 22-23.
"In Pro League and the Olympics, our opponents will be much better and difficult. They will play more attacking hockey."