By Daragh Ó Conchúir
AS DEBUT seasons go, Laura Doherty certainly enjoyed a stellar one in 2017. At 19, she was delighted to break into the Westmeath Senior Camogie team and having younger sister Aoife alongside her added to the thrill.
The Doherty duo made it all the way to Croke Park in September, where they were part of a unit that annexed the All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship.
That wasn't it for Laura though, as she ended the year at the Citywest Hotel, where she was named on the inaugural Soaring Stars team, having been one of three nominees for Junior Players' Player of the Year Award.
Under the management of Johnny Greville, Westmeath have carried on that momentum. Aoife has taken a step back as she concentrates on her Leaving Cert studies but is expected to return to the fold when the Lakesiders take on the Intermediate Championship challenge in the summer.
For her part, Laura has continued to excel as Westmeath booked their place in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division 2 Final against Cork by defeating Dublin in the Semi-Final, after coming through their group with a 100 per cent record.
That record included a win over Sunday's opponents at the Cork Camogie Grounds on April 1st, but Doherty insists that nobody within the Westmeath camp is reading a whole lot into that ahead of the decider at the St. Lachtain's grounds in Freshford.
"We're delighted" beams Doherty. "We weren't expecting too much coming into the League this year. We said we'd take each game as it came but it's great that won them all and we're playing Cork at the weekend. It's very exciting.
"It was great to beat Cork in the group stages but I think on Sunday it's a clean slate. We'll go out, it's nil-nil and we'll just have to forget about having played them before. We'll just try to go out and play how we can and not think about that."
The second year primary teaching student at Maynooth makes the trip home twice a week for training. This isn't the type of individual to rest on her laurels, even after a year that was the stuff of dreams.
"It was a very exciting few weeks at the end of the year and to get the award was great. The All-Stars night was lovely and it was nice to chat to players from other teams. We got to chat to a few of the Dublin girls who we'd played in the Final. We're all in the same boat, training and going to games, so it was nice to do that.
"It was brilliant to win an All-Ireland in Croke Park and to carry that on to get to the League Final against Cork is great. But we're always looking to enjoy the excitement, not put too much pressure on ourselves and perform. We want to enjoy it.
"Johnny encourages that. He tells us to enjoy ourselves all the time, just to play freely and not be confined.
"Like all teams, we have our talks and plans but when it comes to the moment, the ball is coming to you, you take it as it comes. You hurl the way you can."
It sounds a wonderful philosophy and to date it has generated results. Doherty hopes that continues to be the case on Sunday but either way, Westmeath are in good heart as they look towards the Intermediate Championship.
Playing a Cork unit that has appeared in the last two All-Ireland Finals at that level and won the Division 2 title 12 months ago is the perfect grounding for a positive summer campaign.
"It's a great preparation to have that under our belts. It's good practice going into the Championship in the summer" agrees the Raharney defender.
"If we go out and play the way we know we can, we can do no more. After that, whatever happens, happens."