DHARMARAJ... charging up his players during the famous semi-finals win again Italy.
Pictures by Joe Pengkalan
THE Malaysian women's hockey team ended their World League Round Two campaign with honours, but the work has just begun for coach K. Dharmaraj.
The former national men's senior and juniors' coach took over the women's job a year ago and turned a whipping side to silver medallists at the Tun Razak Stadium on Sunday.
World No 15 Italy were beaten in their campaign, but they lost steam and collapsed 3-0 to world No 16 Ireland in the final.
Dharmaraj used unconventional ways to train his charges by waking them up by 4.30am to train by 5am.
After that they hit the gym for five days a week -- something that has never done with the women's side. He also took them on uphill runs, and they threw car tyres during training -- akin to a gladiator competition.
When asked about his team's fantastic showing in the World League Round Two Dharmaraj said: "... the work has just begun for me and the players, as I aim to qualify for the World Cup (2018 in England)."
England will host 16 teams, and not the usual 12, and so Malaysia have a good chance of qualifying based on double qualifications from the five continental tournaments.
In the World League Semifinals, Malaysia will either play in South Africa (July 8-23) or Belgium (21 June-7 July) with both having six strong seeded teams.
The six seeded teams in Belgium are reigning world champions Netherlands, hosts Belgium, Oceania champions Australia, Hockey World League Season Two runners up New Zealand, China and Asian champions South Korea.
And in Johannesburg the teams who have qualified are, England (represented by many athletes who won the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal for Great Britain), reigning Champions Trophy and World League champions Argentina, Olympic bronze medallists Germany, African champions South Africa, Pan American champions United States and Japan.
Each of the World League Semifinals will add four more teams to complete a pool of 10 after the Round Two ends in other countries.
"We will be playing against established sides in the WL Semifinals and so it does not make a difference if we are placed in Belgium or South Africa.
"Both venues have teams with great achievements, but that does not bother me. With 16 teams playing in the next World Cup, I will plan for Malaysia to be among them," said Dharmaraj.
Dharmaraj whipped up a Junior World Cup side which finished fourth in the 2013 Edition in New Delhi -- and he is well known to have the touch to turn things around.
And the plan involves a round of thrashing in Europe.
"My plan is to take the team to Europe and play at least 20 matches against higher ranked teams there. Ireland and Italy have agreed to play with us if we make the trip, and I also want to play against other higher ranked teams to make my players lose their fear.
"I am willing to see my team thrashed in the process, as I believe that is the only way to become better," said Dharmaraj.
Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) Technical Director Terry Walsh confirmed that the Europe trip is planned for the end of April.
For the record, the Malaysian women's team qualified for the WL Semifinals for the first time and have never played in the World Cup before.
But with Dharmaraj as the coach, his players can start dreaming about making their World Cup debut in England 2018 -- provided they are willing to sweat blood for the next six months during their coaches' unconventional training methods.