Goalkeeping is a thankless job, says Indian Olympics star Sreejesh

Kerala’s first Olympic medal winner Manuel Frederick presents PR Sreejesh with Rs10 million cheque. — Supplied photo
Kerala’s first Olympic medal winner Manuel Frederick presents PR Sreejesh with Rs10 million cheque. — Supplied photo

Abu Dhabi - 'It’s the hard work, dedication and sacrifices of the past 10 years that has helped the team win a bronze medal'



By Ashwani Kumar

Published: Thu 12 Aug 2021, 9:05 PM

With six seconds left on the clock, goalkeeper PR Sreejesh pulled off a stunning save against Germany to end India’s 41-year wait for a hockey medal in the Olympics. Since the 5-4 bronze medal match result at the Tokyo Olympics, the Keralite’s phone has been buzzing with hundreds of congratulatory messages.

While relishing the plaudits, phone calls and cash prizes, Sreejesh wonders what if his reflexes weren’t sharp enough and Germany had scored in the dying minutes?

“As a sportsperson, you always aspire to represent India at the Olympics. When I started playing, there was the prestigious record of eight Olympic golds. I participated in the past 3 Olympics carrying that legacy of our past greats. It’s the hard work, dedication and sacrifices of the past 10 years that has helped the team win a bronze medal,” said Sreejesh during a felicitation ceremony held in Kerala.

UAE-based VPS Healthcare’s chairman and managing director Dr Shamsheer Vayalil offered Rs10 million to Sreejesh. The cheque was presented by Manuel Frederick, former hockey goalkeeper and first Keralite to win an Olympic medal, a bronze in 1972.

“Goalkeeping is an important position in hockey but a thankless job too. If a match is won 1-nil, people would be curious to know who scored the goal. No one asks how many attempts were saved by a goalkeeper. Similarly, if we lose 1-0 then all eyes will be on the keeper who failed his team. Goalkeepers are destined only to hear blames,” said Sreejesh.

Recollecting the last-gasp penalty corner by the Germans, the 33-year-old ‘Great Wall of India’, said: “Everyone is now talking about those six seconds. Many people tell me they held their breath in those final moments. Yes, I could pull off the save but what if I hadn’t and they had scored. Everyone would have said that despite the team playing brilliantly we lost because of Sreejesh being old or the team lacking a young keeper.”

On a lighter note, Sreejesh revealed that when VPS Healthcare corporate communications and CSR head Dr Rajeev Mangottil informed him about the cash prize, he thought it was a prank call.

“After the match, I got some 1,500 WhatsApp messages and 500 missed calls. Amid these, when Dr Rajeev called, I thought it was a prank, maybe by some journalists to check my reaction as Kerala government hadn’t announced any prize then while other states had. But then he connected me to Dr Shamsheer, who said the prize was a small gift from one brother to another. For him it may have been a small gift but for me, it was the biggest gift anyone was giving me.”

Frederick noted that the act by the UAE entrepreneur will encourage future stars.

“It is heartening to see that people like Dr Shamsheer are coming forward to recognise sportspersons.”

Dr Shamsheer hoped such gestures of appreciation will attract the youth to sports.

“We must remember those who laid the foundation for this great achievement, which will inspire the generations to come.”


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