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Kandy SC prop Kishore Jehan (Second from right) embraces a CH&FC player in a show of camaraderie after the team’s final match in the league tournament in Colombo | (Pic by Eshan Dassanayake)

Kandy Sports Club’s Kishore Jehan is a giant. He was one of the key players who carried the hopes of the Nittawela Club on his shoulders for 11 full seasons. Now reaching age 35 and after so many gruelling seasons the bury prop forward believes it’s time to call it quits after the 2016/17 season concludes with the knockout tournament.

The big man from Chillaw is happy about his achievements in rugby. Like most island kids, he played the bat and ball game and even represented Chillaw Marians in the under 23 tournament. He didn’t play cricket at school, but dabbled in the shot put event. All the hoisting and lifting movements he did with the shot put ensured he developed large, broad muscular shoulders. He soon realized that his physique was disadvantageous for cricket and switched to rugby union with the blessings of his dad, Tuan Mohammed Faleel. “I still give credit to my dad because it’s he who saw my potential and directed me to rugby,” Kishore told the Nation in an interview.

He was one of those players who benefitted immensely through the SLRFU conducted development squads (Where the players were in charge of Hisham Abdeen) which were conducted when Harsha Mayadunne headed the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU). “When Kandy SC recruited me I was well trained and knew my rugby. The set-up in Kandy SC doesn’t offer chances for youngsters to be trained. You have to be somebody if you are to be recruited by Kandy SC. This path for a youngster to receive a good training no longer exists due to the absence of SLRFU conducted development squads,” Kishore said.
The big boy from Chillaw happily settled at Kandy SC when he joined them back in 2005. Till then life was hard. He travelled daily from Chillaw to Colombo for practices when representing Old Zahirians SC. But after three seasons with the Maradana Club, he was invited to join the champion team situated in the central hills. “I was impressed by their will to win. Players had everything and they only had to concentrate on the game. The professionalism present at the club was inspiring,” he said.

Kishore had an appetite for large quantities of food. He put a full stop to it and started training twice a day and settled for a restricted diet. He was 108 kgs and he saw his weight drop to 104. But he became fitter and stronger working within this professional system. Kishore remembers past national player Sanjeewa Jayasinghe personally supervising his fitness sessions, with the intention of getting the best out of him.

Everybody at Kandy SC was working hard to get to the next level in rugby. Kishore too raised the bar on his own where training was concerned. He made it to the national team as prop in 2005 and featured in a World Cup qualifier against Singapore. “I rate winning my national jersey as the best accomplishment in rugby. Playing for Kandy SC has also given me equal satisfaction,” he said. Kishore said he can’t remember anyone from Chillaw having represented Sri Lanka at rugby during the past decade.

Unlike in Colombo, he soon got used to mingling with rugby fans in the hill capital. Here in Kandy, fans cultivate a close relationship with players and express their sadness when Kandy SC doesn’t end up as winners. He said that it’s both a blessing and an encouragement to have fans that follow the team and monitor its progress.

This season Kandy SC emerged as the unlikely winner, largely because the team was placed third after the first round of matches. “The management encouraged us and made us believe in ourselves. As seniors we in turn passed the message to the juniors and we were able to win. This win also helped convey the message to our fans that we’ll never let them down,” said Kishore.

It’s not easy playing in front of a vocal crowd numbering over 10,000 and cheering a team clad in red, white and blue jerseys. These fans have been fiercely loyal to the Kandy SC team and have travelled along with them even when the side travels to Colombo. It’s possibly this loyalty that has etched the message in Kishore’s mind not to look at another club and make a crossover.

Thanks to his rugby activities with the club, he was able to find employment at Union Bank as a supervisor. He still works for the bank and said he looked forward to continue serving them once he hangs up his boots after this season.

He also progressed in life and found his partner Benazir, a resident from Kandy. The duo has raised two kids, Masha Jehan (Daughter) and Ahmed Hanik (Son). Kishore said that his wife now watches rugby matches unlike before and even takes it upon herself to give him advice before a game.

Many years ago, before he found his feet in life, he was known in Chillaw town as Tuan Mohammed Falil’s son. “Now they know me as Kishore the rugby player,” he said.
It was heartwarming to see regular skipper of Kandy SC Roshan Weeraratne stepping aside for Kishore to lead the side at the final fixture of the league tournament where Kandy SC played CH&FC at Race Course. Players like Kishore will leave their signature in the field of rugby once they retire. We saw him in his youth where he was fast and strong and also during the later stages of his career where age slowed him down, but he hung on and made himself be counted. The rugby fraternity will cherish those memorable moments!
(Pic by Eshan Dassanayake)