Army XI win Murugappa Gold Cup hockey


Chennai: Veteran Ignace Tirkey rekindled memories of his halcyon days with the national team as he struck the match-winner in the 59th minute to help Army XI beat Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) 2-1 in the final of the 85th All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament, here Sunday.

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Ignace’s strike came after goals by Mansid Bhengra of the Army XI (28th) and Amar Aiyamma of the BPCL (30th) had set up the match for a close finish.

Ultimately, Army XI’s superior fitness and better organization in the deep defence proved to be decisive factors as BPCL, despite the wealth of talent and individual flair, got it all wrong at the finish where they made too much haste.

The match began at a slow pace with both teams adopting a cautious approach. A few probing moves at either end besides some midfield exchanges marked the first 25 minutes during which Sher Singh and Eliazer Lakra failed to score from close range.

The rival forwards were closely policed and given little leeway to make any effective moves. As such, there was little to choose between the teams that appeared well-matched man for man. It needed a goal to elevate the proceedings.

Past the 28th minute, Bhengra lit up the contest with a brilliant reverse hit to goal along the carpet after being put through by Ignace Tirkey. The low trajectory of the shot surprised goalkeeper Swinder Singh.

BPCL hit back in style as Aiyamma, with his back to the goal, flicked in a pass from Ravipal Singh, a move that totally foxed goalkeeper P.T. Rao who only last night had played a lead role for Army XI with two saves in the tie-breaker against IOC.

On resumption, there was a spell of virtual inactivity as the exchanges got bogged down in the midfield. The umpires were called upon to keep the tempers in check and it was a while before the fluency and rhythm of the first-half could be seen.

BPCL looked the more dangerous of the two when in flow and threatened to score any moment. The long-striding Aiyamma prompted from the midfield, broke through on a few occasions, but credit must be given to the Army deep defence that stood up well to the onslaughts.

On their part, Army depended mostly on lightning counter-attacks, especially down the right flank where BPCL’s left-half Gurpreet Singh was pressurized.

The ploy worked and a move down the wing put Ignace Tirkey in possession at the top of the circle and the wily forward took his time before letting it rip to the boards for the match-winner to cap a fine tournament personally while underlining his match fitness.

Special awards:

Most Valuable Player – Amar Aiyamma (forward, BPCL). Best Forward – Sunil Ekka (Army XI). Best goalkeeper – PT Rao (Army XI). Best Midfielder – Prabhdeep Singh (BPCL).