India hockey star PR Sreejesh feels that goalkeepers are like fine wine who get better with age, reflecting on his illustrious career from warming the bench to becoming one of the best in the world.

Sreejesh, a former captain, said the setbacks in the early part of his career taught him lessons to use failures as building blocks for success.

“The first few years were quite hard for me,” Sreejesh was quoted as saying by PTI. “It took time for me to understand what international hockey is all about. With time, the game has changed, the game has become faster, so every tournament teaches you something.”

He added, “When I started my career, I used to concede a lot of goals but everyone had faith in me and kept motivating me. The best part of a goalkeeper is that when you are the second choice, you get to gain a lot of experience by sitting outside and watching. I am grateful to my seniors for their advices and suggestions,” he said.

“I am here today after overcoming all the obstacles. Goalkeepers are like wine, the longer you keep them, the better it tastes.”

At 33, Sreejesh is at the twilight of his career but the custodian from Kerala has not planned his future yet.

“I am not planning anything yet because now it’s important to focus on Olympics. We don’t how the circumstances will be after that. So, it’s all about short-term goals,” he said, when asked about his retirement plans after Olympics.

“For me, the next focus is FIH Pro League, where we are going to meet a lot of tough opponents. When it comes to a senior-most player, you need to keep short goals all the time to sharpen yourself and perform your best.”

The former captain feels that India has left behind the lean patch of 2008-2012 and predicted a much-improved show in the Tokyo Games than any of the last few Olympics. India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and four years later, the team finished last in the London Games. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, India bowed out in the quarter-finals.

“From 2008 till 2016,” Sreejesh said. “The lowest point for Indian hockey was 2008, when we failed to qualify. In 2012, we finished last, and in 2016 we finished eighth. I feel this time we will be better and prove our mettle.”

India qualified for Tokyo Olympics after beating Russia 11-3 on aggregate in Bhubaneswar on Saturday, and Sreejesh, regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of the world, is expected to man the Indian goal in Tokyo.

“It’s great that we are going to Tokyo. After every tournament we analyse ourselves and here, we got a very good lesson that we can’t underestimate any team,” said Sreejesh.

India will make its debut in the FIH Pro League against the Netherlands in a home fixture on January 18 and 19. The Pro League involves nine teams in men’s and women’s sections, each playing on home and away basis on a two-year schedule.

India will host their first six matches. After facing the Dutch, they will take on Belgium on February 8-9 followed by matches against defending champions and world No. 1 Australia on February 22-23.

“In Pro League and the Olympics, our opponents will be much better and difficult. They will play more attacking hockey.”