By Jugjet Singh
HOCKEY: The year in review.
THE Asian Games gold medal was in Malaysia's hands, but the players decided to trade it like Aladdin's lamp to Pakistan, and now it looks like two out of their three wishes will remain just that, wishes.
They not only threw away a chance to win Malaysia's first Asian Games gold medal, but also decided to take the long and arduous route to the 2012 London Olympics, by joining the soup queue in the Dublin Qualifier next year.
The cost of shaving their head bald in Changzhou, China, in 2010 and tamely losing the ticket to London on a 2-0 margin to Pakistan, will haunt the team in Dublin as hosts Ireland and South Korea will be the biggest barriers.
Malaysia are now known as a generous side, as they first gave away the India World Cup ticket to New Zealand after taking a 1-0 lead with only 13 minutes separating them from the World Cup and failure, but decided to lose 2-1 in Invercargill.
And then, they gave Pakistan the Olympic ticket on a whimper.
It was no different in South Africa, where the generosity of the Malaysian team was again on parade as they held India by the jugular with six minutes remaining, but decided to throw away a 4-2 lead and instead of playing in the medal knock-outs, they fought gallantly for the fifth spot.
Incidentally, or hilariously, they kept true to the fifth target set by the now dead Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) and were aptly rewarded with a purse of RM4,500 each, player and official, for holding on tenaciously to their target.
If wishes came true, hockey fans in the country would have held their breath, and crossed their fingers, and wished hard that the players would suddenly be blessed with some grey matter between their ears.
But that would just turn out to be another wasted wish.
The current batch of players have skills, speed, stamina and the ability to beat the best teams in the world.
However, they seem to lack the ability to hold onto leads, or motivate themselves to win gold medals, and play at a higher level, instead of only being remembered by romantics as the almost-there team.
They could have played in the India World Cup and then the London Olympics, but it turned out to be wishful thinking, leaving just the Dublin Qualifier to look forward to -- wishfully.
The Genie failed twice, and now it looks like the golden harvest will only materialise with hard work and not just playful thinking.
MHF, and now Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah inherited a sinking ship in November 2008, but his steady hands has safely manuevered it out of debts and now there is a surplus if RM10 million in their coffers.
With the office in working order, he is now looking for a winning side.
He stared many long term projects to raise the standard of hockey, by projecting to break into the top-10 in the world, and one of the best laid play so far is the 1Mas Programme.
It started with an RM3 million per-year grant from the government, and just after a year, has started to show encouraging results.
First, the Under-16 team went Down Under and won the FHE Cup held in Perth, Australia.
The Malaysian 1Mas team was on top of their game when they defeated Western Australia Under-16 team 3-2 in the final.
And when a 1Mas under-12 camp was held in Kuala Lumpur recently, a strong critic of Malaysian hockey finally found a soft spot in his heart and lamented loudly that he has never seen under-12 players in Malaysia possess such good basics and also dribbling skills in the half-century that he has been following the sport.
It all boiled down to state coaches who trained these under-12 boys and gave them strong basics in just one year.
Tengku Abdullah has said many times that he would like to see the current batch win gold in the Dublin Qualifier and finally be back in the Olympics which they last played in the year 2000 in Sydney.
But if the state coaches keep up the good development work for at least another five years, then there will no longer be a need to wish for gold anymore.