The 34-year-old, a decorated former Australian drag-flick ace, had returned home in June when the national team probables were granted a four-week break from the camp. Although the campers regrouped at the SAI South centre here on August 4, Ciriello stayed back in Australia. First it was said there was an issue with his visa and later treatment for skin inflammation was cited as the reason for the delay in his return.
India’s nemesis during his playing days, Ciriello is best remembered for scoring hat-tricks both in the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games final in 2014. Following his retirement in November 2017, he joined the Indian team in January 2018 ahead of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. While his job title was that of an analytical coach, over the past two-and-a-half years, Ciriello was also seen in the roles of assistant coach and team manager at various international assignments.
Given his drag-flick prowess, he also doubled as the coach for the penalty-corner specialists. Many Indian defenders have spoken about Ciriello’s influence on their game.
The exit of Ciriello puts the focus back on the crisis in Indian hockey. He is the third high-profile professional to have quit in the past month. The first to put in his papers was Hockey India’s (HI) high-performance director David John, who was followed by the men’s team physio David MacDonald. Incidentally, all three are Australians.
According to sources, Ciriello was not keen on extending his stay by a year, after the coaches were handed an extension following the Olympics were put off until next year. The spike in Covid-19 cases added to his reluctance to return.
The latest development may prove detrimental to the team, considering there is less than a year to go for the Tokyo Olympics. Chief coach Graham Reid’s support system has taken a big hit, with only Shivendra Singh, Piyush Dubey (assistant coaches) and Robin Arkell (scientific advisor) remaining in the group.
Given the circumstances, HI has its task cut out in finding suitable replacements for all the three positions. With overseas experts wary of travelling to the country owing to the alarming increase in Covid-19 cases, it will be interesting to see if HI will settle for homegrown talent.