THOOOTHUKUDI: In what is a much-needed push to the rising popularity of hockey in Tamil Nadu, two players from the State have been selected in the 20-member national men's senior squad which will compete in the Asian cup in Indonesia between May 23 and June 1. The selections of S Mareeswaran (21) of Kovilpatti and S Karthi (20) of Ariyalur end an 11-year-drought for TN, as no player from the State had been part of a men's national squad of the sport during the period.
Both Mareeswaran, who plays in the midfield, and Karthi, a forward, were trained at the Sports Hostel for Excellence (SHE) in Kovilpatti, functioning under the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT). During his training at SHE, Mareeswaran studied at the Government Arts college in Kovilpatti. After passing out in 2021, he got the job as an auditor at Office of Accountant General, Chennai, through sports quota. Karthi is a third-year degree student at the SS Duraisamy Mariammal Arts College near Kovilpatti.
Speaking to TNIE, C Guru Chithra Shanmugabarathi, secretary, Thoothukudi unit of Hockey, said the news has brought immense pleasure. This will encourage more youngsters from the region to make the district, the State, and the country proud.
"I expected them to play the junior India team last year, unfortunately, neither of them were shortlisted for the last round", he added.
Guru also lauded the State government's efforts to establish an Astro Turf hockey stadium at Kovilpatti, back in 2017, and attributed it for the success.
"Earlier, our players could not shine in national-level tournaments, as they used to practice on gravel grounds and then play the matches on synthetic turf. The Astro Turf stadium has fulfilled the needs, and churned out talented players from Kovilpatti for the Indian squad," he said. Kovilpatti is already known as an iconic place for hockey in the State, as it has contributed many players to the state and national teams over the years.
N Muthukumar, SDAT hockey coach at SHE, who has trained both Mareeswaran and Karthi, told TNIE that despite coming from poor backgrounds, the two have put on good performances with absolute attention and commitment toward the sports.
Having represented the State team on many occasions, the two were in the national coaching camps in Bengaluru for the past two years, he said, adding that their excellent performances in national-level matches and coaching camps would have caught the eye of the selectors and given them the well-deserved chance.
The parents of Mareeswaran -- Sakthivel and Sankareswari, who worked at safety match factories and as daily wage workers, said they were happy to know that their son will play for India. "I know he is talented. He should bring cheers to our country and participate in the Olympics as well," said Sankareswari.
Similarly, S Karthi's father Selvam, a gate security at a government college, is in boundless euphoria. Karthi's mother is a domestic housemaid. "I have bought him hockey bats borrowing money from friends, only to encourage him in the game which he liked," Selvam told TNIE.
The last players from Tamil Nadu to represent the Indian men's team in any age group category were Gunasekar of Tiruchy and Naveen of Chennai, who played for the India men's junior squad at the Sultan of Johor Cup tournament held in Malaysia in 2011.
CM greets Mareeswaran and Karthi
Chennai: Chief Minister MK Stalin on Wednesday greeted S Mareeswaran and Karthi from Ariyalur. "I wish both the players success, not only in the Asia Cup but also in the 2024 Paris Olympics," the Chief Minister said in his message.