"It was a big platform for me as I had not played any international match for the junior team yet. All I had was match exposure at the national level when I got picked for the Kalinga Lancers in 2014," recalled Tirkey who was called for Junior India camp in 2013, Bengaluru, but had not made it to the national side.
It was post his HIL performance that Tirkey made it to the junior India team for the Sultan of Johor Cup, where he debuted, in 2014.
"I got to learn a lot from foreign players and built a personal rapport with them. Glenn Simpson from Australia and I shared a special bond as he would always correct me and would tell me how you mark man-to-man while playing defence. These aspects helped me improve my game and my confidence," he said.
Playing in the HIL was not only a learning curve for this 18-year-old India defender but it also gave him recognition.
"Until then, people didn't know much about hockey. Of course, Padma Shri Dr. Dilip Tirkey was most popular but the people of Odisha had never gotten to watch big ticket international level hockey. Bringing Coal India HIL to Bhubaneswar ensured people thronged the stadium during matches. With more and more international matches like the FIH Champions Trophy being played in Odisha, people have started to follow hockey regularly and have started to recognise young players like me," said Tirkey who hails from a farming background.
According to Tirkey, hockey was popular among tribal belts like Sundargarh but had failed to attract the urban dwellers until HIL kicked off.
"During HIL, the entire city has posters and hoardings of hockey players. There is a lot of buzz created and people do get excited with the level of hockey that s being played. They get to see the biggest players in international hockey and the matches are all high intensity. Cricket, until now, was the obvious choice of sport but I feel that s changing now as people get to see that a career can be made from hockey too," Tirkey said.