"It is a great feeling to qualify for the London Olympics. A lot of hard work has gone in to succeed," the 25-year-old Raghunath told OneIndia.in in an exclusive interview on Saturday after he was felicitated and awarded a cheque of Rs 2 lakhs by Surana College, where he graduated from, in 2007, with corporate support from Micro Labs, for being a part of the victorious Indian team.
"We are back in Olympics after eight years. It was so disappointing to miss out on 2008 Games in Beijing. That hurt. The qualification to London makes all of us and the country happy. It is a big achievement," added Raghunath, who scored one goal for India in the final against France in New Delhi last Sunday.
Raghunath, during the felicitation, handed over his Indian jersey to Micro Labs CMD, Dilip Surana. He had worn that white jersey during the 2008 Olympic qualifiers.
India trounced France 8-1 in the qualifiers' final at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium to book their spot for the 2012 Games.
For any athlete, playing in Olympics is the ultimate dream. And it is no different for Raghunath, who is an officer with Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) in Bangalore.
"It is every athlete's dream to be in Olympics. I have always been dreaming of that. It will be the biggest achievement in my career to represent the country in Olympics. I have been working hard for this," explained Raghunath, who hails from Coorg district, which is famous for producing India's top hockey players.
Raghunath recalled how tough the journey back home was, after failing to qualify for 2008 Olympics, in Santiago, Chile. It was in March 2008, that India lost to England in qualifiers in Santiago and failed to make it to China. It was for the first time in 80 years that India were not in Olympics.
"It was one of the toughest periods in my life. I did not want to talk to anyone. We were shell-shocked to miss out on Olympics. I was really low on confidence. It was my father who helped me come out of those difficult times," Raghunath, who has so far played 122 matches for India and scored 82 goals, recollected.
In the aftermath of that failure, Raghunath chose to spend time at home in Coorg. There, his dad, VS Ramachandra, a former hockey player, gave him the much-needed support. He ensured that his son put those dark days behind and rediscovered his touch.
After clearing the qualifying hurdle, expectations are high as India try to regain lost glory on the world stage. Raghunath feels this team has the potential to finish on the podium in London.
"This team is replete with positive energy. I would call this as an advantage. We definitely have the potential to be on the podium in London," he said with confidence.
The country's hockey fans are also hoping for a medal from India, who have won eight Olympic golds, the most by a team. The last time India won gold was in Moscow, 1980.
India's ace drag-flicker and the star of the qualifiers, Sandeep Singh and Raghunath have been playing together from junior days. They get along very well and enjoy each other's success.
On his relationship with Sandeep, he says: "Sandeep (Singh) and I started our careers together. We have a very healthy relationship. We help each other."
A lot of them have given credit to the Australian coach Michael Nobbs for turning the team's fortunes and Raghunath too acknowledges his contribution.
"Definitely. Michael Nobbs has changed the team. His contribution needs to be recognised. He has got the team combination right," Raghunath opined.
Besides the coach, another Australian, David John, the team's physical trainer, has also done a tremendous work with the fitness of the players.
"Since the arrival of David John, the players' fitness levels have improved. His training methods are different and they have helped."
The Indian team's achievement has brought in a flow of cash awards for the players and Raghunath thinks they are good motivating factors for them.
Raghunath has also experienced the lows of being out of the Indian team for nearly two years. But he has come back stronger. The journey back into the national squad has been the result of sheer hard work. Now, the youngster is determined to convert those countless hours of practice into an Olympic medal.