New Delhi: In a bid to bolster the defence and improve efficiency in penalty corner conversions, Hockey India has roped in former Australia drag-flicker Chris Ciriello as the team’s analytical coach keeping in mind their busy year ahead.
Though the federation is yet to make the news official, Ciriello has joined the senior men’s national team in New Zealand where they are competing in the four-nations invitational tournament also involving Belgium, Japan and New Zealand.
On the day, Ciriello — who retired from the Kookaburras squad in November last year — was seen having animated discussions with the Indian players during the half time break in their match against Belgium.
Said Ciriello in a chat with this newspaper from New Zealand, “My focus will be on penalty corner attack and defence. At present, I am filling in and assisting (chief coach) Sjoerd Marijne in coaching. It’s more as an assistant coach role with overview on short corners.”
The 32-year-old has been central to Australia’s plans since his debut in 2008 and was considered one of the deadliest drag-flickers in the world, until he decided to hang up his boots.
Nicknamed ‘The Big Dog’, Ciriello fired a hat-trick in the 2014 World Cup final against the Netherlands in the Hague, guiding Australia to a 6-1 win.
It is that winning mentality and his successful conversions off penalty corners, that India will look to imbibe from the experienced player, who will work extensively with drag-flickers Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and others.
India have suffered on account of poor conversion rates in major tournaments in the last few years, resulting in average overall performances.
“The plan is to strengthen trust and belief in the team. My role is to help with execution of skills and set-pieces. Having been at the national level for a long time, playing 195 games and scoring 115 goals, I am up for the job,” said Ciriello, who also played for Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the Hockey India League.
“I have connections with India as my mother was born there and know all the players. I have chatted previously even with Roelant Oltmans and David John and thus this association came about.
“My original club in Melbourne was full of Indians and Anglo-Indians, so I have grown up with the culture and understand the dynamics of the country and people’s mentality.”
On his days so far with the team, he said, “The team has been very receptive and I have enjoyed being around the guys. I have played with or against most of the players in the HIL and met other young guys there too. It’s great experience for the young guys with such a great competition here in New Zealand.”...