By Daragh Ó Conchúir
MEATH stalwart Kristina Troy almost took this year out after nearly a decade of commitment to the county's Camogie side.
She admits now that she would have been kicking herself were she on some beach in Asia or Australia while the Girls in Green were trotting out onto Croke Park for Sunday's Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship Final against Cork.
Unfortunately, it was the illness of both her parents that prompted her to remain but she did not lick her spirit and fortitude off the ground. Mum and Dad are "on the mend" and have been boosted by the Royals' return to the big stage, not to mention their daughter's considerable role in that journey.
For her part, Troy found that having Camogie to focus on was critical as she worried about her parents. Apart from that, her appetite has been renewed and plans to put all thoughts of exotic climes on hold for "four or five years" at least in a bid to achieve all she can.
"I won't lie, I was half-swayed this year to go travelling but unfortunately both my parents weren't very well this year so I said I would stay around" says Troy. "But I'm actually so thankful that I did because Camogie definitely gave me an outlet that I needed with a stressful background at home during the summer.
"And I'm now going to Croke Park. Getting to Croke Park only makes me hungrier and makes me want to compete with the Division 1 Cork team, Galway, Kilkenny… so my hunger is well and truly revitalised this year. I do want to get the most out of my game. There's only a short timeframe in which you can get the most out of your game so I have to make the most of it now."
Seeing some of the younger players such as Aoife Minogue, Megan Thynne and Aideen Slattery progressing enthuses her about the future of the game in Meath. Apart from that, Troy and teammates Máire and Áine Keogh are helping to guide the development of the current U15 squad so she knows what is coming through and has every intention of being there when some of them graduate to what she hopes is Senior Camogie.
"The Camogie status in Meath is growing constantly and there's more people out with hurleys, every day you see them. It's great."
Troy always had an interest in coaching and has just brought to an end a three-year stint with the Maynooth University squad that reached the last two Purcell Cup deciders. She learned a lot herself as a player at the Kildare college under former Cork star Jenny Duffy but it is long-serving Meath boss John Davis who has been the greatest influence.
Davis was well established as a coach by the time he took on the job a decade ago, having enjoyed hurling success at club level in both Meath and Westmeath and has been in charge of the Royals' hurling team that pushed a vaunted Offaly unit to six points in the 1996 Leinster Championship.
It was Davis that introduced Troy to the fold at the tender age of 15, prior to the change in age eligibility. He exercised patience with the Blackhall Gaels youngster and it was two years before she became an established figure.
Being part of the set-up as Meath won the All-Ireland Junior A title in 2008 fuelled her ambition and she was an integral component of the side that added Premier Junior honours four years later. Now, they are a step away from Senior Camogie and Davis has guided them on the remarkable odyssey.
"This is his 10th year here. He has really brought Camogie from one level of the spectrum to another in County Meath" says Troy. "He has a great passion, determination and drive for it. He has a vision for Meath Camogie and we're all following that vision. At the end of the day, he pushes us because he wants the best for us. He sees where we can go and we just need to trust him on that and go with it."
The greatest challenge for a manager who has been with a team for so long is to keep it fresh. This year, Davis introduced Ronan McWilliams, a former Ulster GAA coach from Armagh, to the set-up. Former dual star Christine O'Brien, who is still playing club Camogie well into her 40s and is a games development administrator in Meath, has also been brought in.
There is a nice alchemy in the panel, with many of the players having been involved in 2008 and more enjoying Croke Park success five years ago. With a couple of the All-Ireland B-winning Minors from two years ago joining them, and a season in Division 1 of the National League behind them, Troy feels Meath are well equipped for the upcoming challenge against last year's runners-up, having fallen at the penultimate hurdle themselves on a number of occasions in recent years.
"It wasn't that we didn't have the ability to win these semi-finals, I think it was our own confidence in our ability. Winning is a habit. By winning Division 2 (of the League last year), we realised we had the ability. We won the Leinster Intermediate Championship as well. We now have the confidence.
"This year you could see the difference between playing Division 1 teams in the League and then playing Intermediate Championship. The experience will stand to us. Our confidence has risen, girls are believing in themselves to take on scores. If they make some mistakes so what, it's the next ball, the next ball the whole time.
"I think we're going to be very evenly matched in all areas of the field. On the day, I do think it'll just come down to perhaps that little bit of luck, that hook, that block, that one tackle. That's all I think that's between the sides.
"Their manager Paudie Murray brings a lot of experience. Not every manager brings teams to the All-Ireland Finals but John has a lot of experience too and knows what it takes. There'll be nothing in it. It's a game of inches."