by Daragh Ó Conchúir
JUST a matter of hours after touching down in Ireland following the completion of her six-month tour of duty with the Defence Forces in the Golan Heights, Siobhán Flannery was back training with Offaly.
The Faithful camp had taken on a distinct Noreside hue during her absence, with former Kilkenny All-Ireland Intermediate and Minor-winning manager Mike Wall bringing regular sidekicks, Ger Walsh and TJ Mills along with him to take over the reins.
A new member of the Wall crew has also committed to making the trips to the Midlands, and the commitment of eight-time All-Ireland Senior Hurling winner Richie Power to coach Offaly has certainly buoyed the squad.
"Richie's trainings are top class" Flannery reveals. "You couldn't ask for any better. Things are going well and hopefully they'll continue. Every training is designed to push you further and faster. You can see what he's bringing and what he's done with Kilkenny, and trying to bring it to us. It's massive, what we would never have seen before. It's great to have.
"To have someone of his calibre to consider coming down to Offaly to train a Camogie team, it gives you a bit of a lift. The girls are willing to give the 100 and extra 10 percent then."
That has never been a problem for Flannery, as her attendance at training the minute she was in the same time zone to get her 12th season of Senior Camogie under way demonstrates.
"We landed early Thursday morning and that Thursday night I was at the training session. I wanted to get back into the routine, to what I was comfortable with, get back to the girls. You're listening to how they're going the whole time, how they're getting on so you want to be part of it."
What many would consider reasons for missing out are mere excuses for Flannery. The St. Rynagh's star joined the Army after getting her engineering degree in 2011. She trained at the Curragh and has been stationed with the Air Corps in Baldonnel for the last two years, where she leads a team of technicians responsible for the radio technology and other airfield equipment on the ground.
She has always commuted to work though, so that she could be home for Camogie. 24-hour shifts of guard duty on the week of a big game have rarely affected her performances, although her employers have always been supportive and she has never had to do one the day before a match.
It says much for her disciplined approach to maintaining fitness that she has been deployed at midfield since her return.
They 27-year-old's job has always provided her with a balanced outlook on life and her recent experiences have only served to fortify that mindset.
"You're representing the country, doing the job in different places. It's part and parcel of it and a good experience to get in the Army. It has to be done as part of your contract but it's something you look forward to and something I'd like to do again down the line.
"It's good to see that part of the world, to see what happens over there. You're going over with people that you're serving with. You make great friends overseas too."
The Golan Heights is a highly volatile area due to the civil war in Syria that has been ongoing since 2011 and the troubled history between Syria and Israel that has a far longer history. It wouldn't be for everyone.
"I was based mostly in the camp so it was grand that way. When you're in the camp you're doing your job but you're on call the whole time if needed. So it's a test mentally that way. You're always prepared. You're hoping for nothing to happen and ready if it does."
The hurley was packed away as an essential and she went out for regular puckarounds with Monaghan hurler, Tadhg Campbell. While Wall and co. were quick to throw her into the engine room, it has taken time to get to concert pitch.
"You're that few months behind everyone. They've had a load of practice games and all the hurling sessions done and the most you've got is a few pucks with a fella. So to get the eye back in is always the hardest part. And that just takes time and practice.
"There would have been access to gym facilities overseas so you were working on your fitness the best you could. Saying that, there would have been no grass, so to come back even running in your boots on grass, after running on tarmac, you had to get used to that too."
Offaly are without gifted attacker Tina Hannon this year, who illustrated her considerable talents once more when driving Slaughtneil to All-Ireland club glory this year and under new management, the Tricolours are starting anew.
They lost by five points to Dublin in the opening round of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship but showed commendable resolve after a poor start.
"Dublin are a top-class team, All-Ireland Semi-Finalists last year. They've been building with their management for the last few years and they know what they're going at. We're still building with Mike, Richie and the lads but it's slowly coming through and we will get there."
Meath are up next this evening in Birr (5pm). Last year's Intermediate champions won't be underestimated but this is a game Offaly have to win to keep their hopes of making the knockout stages alive.
"As Richie says, this is our All-Ireland Final now. This is where we have to come out and show what we can do because a loss to Meath could make it a very short season and we don't want that. We want to go the whole way.
"Meath are not going to be an easy task. We're going to have to take that step to try get the win over them to make sure we're still in the Championship after Saturday."