From winning a total of eight matches in four seasons to finishing runners-up in the latest edition on Sunday, life has come full circle for the Mumbai franchise of the Hockey India League (HIL). The franchise, which played as Mumbai Magicians in the first two editions (2013 and 2014) of the HIL and was re-launched as Dabang Mumbai under a new owner before the start of the 2015 edition, floundered in the first three seasons.
But in 2017, Dabang Mumbai was the best team of the fifth edition despite the defeat to Kalinga Lancers in the final in Chandigarh on Sunday.
So what worked for Dabang Mumbai?
As per coach Jay Stacy, their conscious effort to bank on youngsters (they had five under-21 players), team unity and the strong foundation they laid last year did the trick for Mumbai. Skipper Florian Fuchs credited the team’s grit, determination and fighting spirit for the silver medal.
Dabang Mumbai started the league with a 3-3 draw against Ranchi Rays, winners of 2016 edition, at the MHA-Mahindra Stadium, scoring the equaliser in the dying moments.
They went on to capitalize on home conditions and won the next three matches against Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Delhi Waveriders, establishing early ascendancy in the standings which they maintained throughout the league phase.
Playing their first five matches at home -- at the Mahindra stadium -- seemed to have worked in their favour as Dabang Mumbai gained confidence and momentum from their wins to eventually finish with six victories, two draws and two defeats in 10 matches in the league phase.
“We showed character and fought till the last minute. We turned games around, even in the final we scored in the last three minutes of the match. We believed in our strengths and we were the best team of the league stage. We bonded very well and how we stayed as a team is something I would like to take back home as a fond memory from the League,” Fuchs said.
The challenge for Dabang Mumbai now will be to hang on to their players for the next season. The likes of midfielder Robert Kemperman, forwards Fuchs, Nikkin Thimmaiah and Affan Yousuf, goalkeeper David Harte and drag flicker Harmanpreet Singh would be much in demand.
Stacy is aware of the challenges ahead.
“When you try to build a hockey club, a franchise puts in a lot of time and energy into developing players. We want to create a supporter base to cheer those players but we will only get to retain maybe six out of the 20 players as per the rules,” the coach said. Refurbishing the squad with the right players will be the key if Dabang Mumbai have to continue the momentum in the next season.