By Jugjet Singh
MALAYSIA are bent on shedding their almost-there tag in hockey, and the stakes are so high that the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHF) will be arriving in a 23-strong force in Dublin to cheer their men during the last two matches against South Korea and Ireland.
However, the first three matches against Chile, Russia and Ukraine could prove to be tougher than expected, but the hours of training and the handful of tours leading to the Qualifier should be enough to give Malaysia nine points before the crunch matches.
Never in the history of hockey has so many office bearers left the shores of Malaysia to cheer a side, be it the Sydney Olympics in 2000, or the 1998 World Cup in Utretch.
Leading the cheering squad would be Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) president Sultan Azlan Shah and MHC president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Tengku Abdullah has seen close shaves after he sat on the MHF hot-seat in 2008 as Malaysia won silver in the 2009 Invercargill World Cup Qualifier and then silver again in the 2010 Asian Games which saw them having to go through the tougher Dublin Qualifier route to reach the London Olympics.
It is now or never, and even the wily fox of Malaysian hockey Azlan Shah could be seen as feeling the jitters when the met the players at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil when the team was named.
After having a pep-talk with the players, he turned to the journalists and said: "We need all the help we can get in Dublin to cheer the team. And you journalists who are going must also be on the stands to motivate the players."
The Qualifier is being held at the University College Dublin grounds where many Malaysians are studying, so the national players can expect a big cheer from the stands, but they must not freeze in the cold and windy conditions here.
The temperature is expected to hoover around 9-12 degrees celcious during mid-day for the duration of the tournament and Malaysia play their first match at high noon against Chile.
A check with the weather forecast in Chile yielded the same results, and that means the Chileans would be more at home than Malaysia in the first crucial match which could make or break our quest.
The wind here, which comes in sudden strong gusts, could also pose a big problem for all the teams hoping to play in the Olympics. Overhead throws, which Malaysia relies upon for counter-attacks, could turn out to be more difficult to execute.
Dublin has a bleak and wintery landscape, but if Malaysia make the grade at the University College Dublin grounds, it could well turn out to be the summer which our hockey has been pinning for the last 12 years.