Offaly goalie Mark Troy pucks the sliotar out during this year’s Leinster U20 Hurling Championship semi-final against Dublin. Photo: Ger Rogers.

Offaly goalie following family’s hurling tradition

By Kevin Egan

For most of the Offaly players who will take to the field in Thurles on Sunday afternoon, Offaly's glory days were the stuff of history. While some have been reared on the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s, these players grew up through the lean years, the period where the county passed one milestone after another on the road to irrelevance.

The love of hurling in the county never dimmed, however, and while the county didn't have famous role models on the pitch, Mark Troy had them in his own family.

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 transforming into one of the most creative and talented centre-forwards in the country.

For now, Mark is following a similar path – catching the eye as a goalkeeper, while taking plenty of opportunities to hurl in the thick of things when he can.

“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,” he told the Offaly Independent last week.

“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,” he said. “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, despite the evolution of the modern goalkeeper, 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,” he responded.