Hockey: India's Craig Fulton era to focus on away performance
The South African coach has spent two-and-a-half weeks with the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit but he doesn't have much time to settle into his role
Craig Fulton often mispronounces Mandeep Mor as Mohammed Mor. A ‘mild man’, the 48-year-old cannot take too much spice in his food. But the new Indian men’s hockey coach is slowly settling in, getting to know the boys, getting accustomed to the food and climate in Bengaluru.
“Lot of names to learn. I have been taking a few days to try and just learn everyone's names but there are one or two that catch me up. I like the lemon chicken but if the food is really spicy then I struggle. But it’s been good so far,” Fulton said with a smile.
The South African has spent two-and-a-half weeks with the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit but time is not on his side with the Asian Games – an Olympic qualifier – only four months away. But the new coach, who replaced Australian Graham Reid, has got his priorities set, having witnessed the Indian team as a rival coach the past nine years.
“The priority is to qualify for Paris (2024 Olympics) by winning the Asian Games. India is an exciting team. It's filled with talent and flair. The one thing that always struck me was that India was very difficult to play in Asia, particularly in India. The challenge will be to see how successful India can be outside of India consistently,” said Fulton, who was coach of Ireland from 2014 to 2018. He was also the assistant coach of Belgium from 2018 to 2023, guiding them to the 2018 World Cup triumph as well as the Olympic gold in Tokyo.
Most of the major international tournaments have been played in India – including three of the last four World Cups – in the last few years, giving the home team an automatic advantage. But hereon, the action, in the next couple of years, will shift abroad.
"There was a hiccup at the World Cup but now all the big tournaments are outside India for the foreseeable two-year cycle, from the next Olympics to the next World Cup. I always thought India were more dangerous at home than they were away but now we will really have to challenge that notion. The objective is to try and be very consistent away from home without home support, playing conditions, weather. That is something we need to focus more on,” said Fulton.
Fulton’s first assignment will be eight away Pro League games in London and Eindhoven over the next few weeks where India will play top teams like Belgium, Great Britain, Argentina and Netherlands. They will then proceed to Spain for a four-nation invitational in July before returning home to play the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai in August. The all-important Asian Games will be up next in September.
“We have to use these tournaments to set us up to be a stronger, connected team to put ourselves in a good position to try and qualify straight away for Paris. My immediate goal is to be the No.1 team in Asia. Then if you are sitting at No.4, 5 or 6 in world rankings, to consistently try and reach the podium,” said Fulton.
"When you build enough experience and have a gameplan that suits all individuals playing to their strengths then you can realistically push only once you have got to that level to try and get to the finals and then try and win the finals. We are a good team, but not the best at the moment. We have some work to do but at the same time, we are a very difficult opponent to play. Not many teams will like playing us.”
- Indian Hockey Team