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Mark Troy following in family footsteps

Offaly U-20 goalkeeper Mark Troy, pictured with his father Jim, who made 112 league and championship appearances across a 14-year intercounty career.

Offaly U-20 goalkeeper Mark Troy, pictured with his father Jim, who made 112 league and championship appearances across a 14-year intercounty career.

By Kevin Egan

In 2003, Offaly’s failure to hold on to a commanding half-time lead in the Leinster semi-final against Wexford meant that for the first time since the early 1960s, the Faithful County lost four Leinster championship ties in succession.

In 2004, the final round of the National Hurling league saw Laois strike late to beat Offaly by 2-13 to 2-12 at St. Brendan’s Park in Birr, which was the first time that Offaly lost a home game to their neighbours in 30 years.

In 2005, Offaly succumbed to a 6-28 to 0-15 defeat to Kilkenny at Croke Park, their heaviest defeat in nearly half a century, and yet another unwanted landmarks were racked up over a long and slow period of decline for Offaly’s hurling fortunes.

Now, the midlanders are on the up. This Sunday, a group of young hurlers born in 2003, 2004 and 2005 will try to do something that no team in the county ever has done before, which is to secure All-Ireland glory at U-20 (previously U-21) level.

For most of these players, they only got to experience the lean years in the flesh. For them, Offaly’s glory days were the stuff of history. For Mark Troy, it was the stuff of family history. His father, Jim, won two Celtic Crosses as goalkeeper in 1985 and 1994, while his uncle John was also a double All-Ireland winner, having played in goals at underage before making his name as one of the most creative players the county ever produced, largely at centre forward.

“You get people saying to you that you are following in your father’s footsteps and I am. I certainly don’t mind people saying that, but we are hurling in two different generations" Mark observed last week, when the question was put to him about the significance of having a celebrated lineage.

“They have hurled their own matches and I’ve hurled mine so there’s no pressure from them either. I just enjoy it. Dad has been there, he talks a bit about old matches but that’s really it. He wouldn’t put too much pressure on me” said the Durrow club man.

In terms of hurling style, it could be said that Mark is a lot closer to his uncle than his father. He was deployed outfield for SETU Carlow in the Fitzgibbon Cup this year, operating as a third midfielder, and even now, he’s not sure where his future lies – merely that as long as he’s out there, with a hurl in his hand, he’ll be happy.

“I still play outfield at underage but play senior in goals. I played Fitzgibbon with Carlow outfield, but with Offaly, the development squads were looking for a goalie and I said I’d stand in, and I’ve been there ever since. I like it so I can’t complain. I enjoy playing in goals and I enjoy playing outfield, I just enjoy playing hurling. Once I’m on the field I’m happy enough”.

Troy acknowledges that in the modern game, every goalkeeper has to be able to hold his own further out the pitch. Waterford’s deployment of goalkeeper Billy Nolan as a sweeper last weekend was further evidence of how simply stopping shots and pucking the ball out is no longer the only task that a goalkeeper has to be able to handle.

“You are more involved in everything that’s going on. You have to be ready to take the ball off your backs in case they are in trouble” he said.

“Just even talking to them, you need to be roaring and shouting. Where their man is going, they mightn’t see it, you’re the eyes of the whole backline.

“You can see everything up and down the field, so you need to be letting everyone know where the ball is going, or who is running down the left-hand side of the field if the ball is coming down the right”.

Ultimately however, Troy knows that for Offaly to put themselves in with a chance of what would be a famous, upset victory this weekend, looking after the core business of keeping his net untouched will be vital. In the Leinster final against Wexford, the clean sheet was crucial, as Offaly edged a 1-21 to 0-22 win. Cork, who have conceded just three goals in five championship starts so far this year, will fancy their chances of keeping the scores down at that end of the pitch, so that in turn heaps the pressure on the Offaly back line to do likewise.

Except that this isn’t man who doesn’t worry about pressure. Call it nature, call it an inheritance, but when asked if he’d like for the game to come down to one last chance, perhaps a penalty or a one-on-one shot with the game on the line, Troy feels that he’d certainly be happy to take that on.

 “If the situation arose I’d take it. You might say no one would want it, but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t mind. As a goalie there is less pressure on you to save it than there is on the forward to score. In that situation you can be the hero and villain in seconds”.

A prospect that excites him, maybe?

“I’m calm enough now. Everything happens for a reason”.

It’s been a long journey back for Offaly hurling, and the presence of calm, collected players like Mark Troy is certainly one of the reasons why they’ve come so far, and why they now have a wonderful opportunity to go even further this weekend.