Despite the setbacks, the All-Ireland final defeats and in particular, the significant injuries, there has never been cause for Kilkenny camogie star Kellyann Doyle to regret the path she took when meeting the fork in the road.
The tears she was captured shedding at the final whistle of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Cork, after a near-miraculous comeback from her second cruciate ligament operation, offered a window to a soul that lives for camogie.
It can be stressful when twin passions diverge but with Doyle enjoying so much success, so quickly in camogie, it made sense to throw her lot in with the ancient game.
There have been times though when she has wondered how far she might have gone in athletics.
Watching contemporaries compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo certainly prompted a spell of musing.
In truth, she wishes she stuck with athletics longer, but it isn’t a source of discontent.
Without any organised training, Kellyann won the All-Ireland Community Games 200m at U10, a feat that caught the attention of Emby Walsh, a coach of the nearest athletics’ club in Carrick-on-Suir, where she went to school.
Over time, she became an elite 400m hurdler, competing all over Europe and garnering a national title at senior level in the Scoil Mhuire Greenhill singlet.
“There were a lot of Irish people in China this year from my time,” says Kellyann.
‘I DON’T REGRET MY DECISION’
“The likes of Sophie Becker and Louise Shanahan; they were in my group growing up.
“Different events but they were always there and thereabouts. You would always be rooting for Thomas Barr and Phil Healy as well.
“I wish I did stick with it. But the camogie, I love that too and there is great reward in that as well, being part of a team. I don’t regret my decision.
“We won the minor All-Ireland (with Kilkenny) and we won the club All-Ireland, and then in 2016 we won the county (senior) All-Ireland.
“So there were a few years when we were winning everything. Then 2017 came and the cruciate went. It kind of put a spanner in the works.”
It was brutal, as Doyle had been illustrating the advantage of a rampaging wing-back long before Kyle Hayes cut loose on Tipperary this summer.
She was 17 only when earning the player-of-the-match award after Piltown’s All-Ireland intermediate final triumph, having also been selected for the honour after the county final.
Not alone did she nullify Waterford captain Nicola Morrissey, but she had the Lismore defence scrambling time after time as she stuck the sliotar to the hurley and sprinted.
“Oh my God, that seems like ages ago,” she says of the time when an innocent took to Croke Park and made it her own. Cruciates have a tendency to knock the innocence out of you though.
“When something like that happens everyone hits rock bottom for a while.
TAKE THE TIME OUT AND GRIEVE
“You just have to take the time out to grieve and then get back into it.
“The first time I did it, Edwina Keane was done hers as well and Niamh Deely was also hit.
So there were three of us always checking in on each other. We were all coming back at the same time. We were kind of pushing each other on; getting through it.
“I was so inexperienced I didn’t really understand. They say 12 months, and ‘12 months will fly’ but it doesn’t. You take it week by week. It’s cruel.”
Second time around, in the league against Cork in March 2020, she knew the road ahead but it was still difficult to process initially. She was sure it was the end of her season.
“Oh yeah, 100%. I was full-on sure it was over. I was blessed then to get the operation so soon because all the hospitals were closing due to Covid.
“They just slotted me in on a Saturday at Santry. I jumped at the opportunity. Everyone went into lockdown a few days after the operation.”
She attacked rehab with fervour, team physio Nicola Aylward and selector Ray Challoner, being the most important people in her life between surgery and getting back to training seven months later.
The Covid-postponed championships gave her a chance but not too many would have been back and firing to the extent that Brian Dowling and his brains trust were willing to throw her in for her first bit of competitive action within weeks of her return.
‘I PROBABLY WASN’T WARY AT ALL’
The latter was in the final throes of a nip-and-tuck semi-final against Cork, the team she had originally come a cropper against.
“I probably wasn’t wary at all, to be honest. We had an in-house match the week before. I was put marking Anne Dalton and she would give you the run-around on the best of days.
!I had a bit of confidence after that. I think I did play well and was feeling back to myself. I had the confidence that my knee was okay.
“At the Cork match, I met Nicola on the way down the steps. She just gave me a little smirk and I was like, ‘Yeah, good, I am going to go on and be fine.’
“I got only 10 or 15 minutes. I think after the match the camera was feckin’ on me in balls of tears. All of the emotion just of being back. It was surreal.
“When everyone was celebrating after the match, I couldn’t control myself. I was just in floods of tears. It was the relief of being back. I couldn’t believe I was finally back.”
She continued to impress but she said you could have knocked her with a feather when Dowling told her she would be marching behind the band in the final against Galway.
“I was a bit shocked to be honest. Brian said: ‘You’ve been going well in training, you put your hand up to say you want to be back. We are going to give you the chance.
DOYLES ARE BIG TIME PERFORMERS
“If you last half an hour, 20 minutes, whatever we can get from you. On the day it was 60 minutes. I was delighted.”
Her younger sister, Aoife, a rising star who won a League medal at centre-forward as a Leaving Cert student before falling out of favour and then grasping the opportunity offered by Dowling, being named player of the match.
It is safe to say the Doyles are big-time performers.
Then there was club-mate Katie Power, this time the one crying, at the joy of Kilkenny getting over the line but heartache of missing out with a broken kneecap, having endured so much final disappointment in the black and amber.
“I saw Katie straight after the whistle. My heart was breaking for her because you knew what she is going through and you knew that it is such a long road back.
“When you are not playing, you don’t really feel like you are contributing. It’s bittersweet when you are injured.
“The stuff she does behind the scenes, the work is immense. She is just dying to get any bit of game time she can at the minute.
“You are only going to improve with matches, so that is what she is kind of doing at the minute. She just drives herself on. It’s great to have her back in the panel.”
SIBLINGS HAE FORMED STRONGER BOND
The Doyle siblings have formed a stronger bond, leaving home together to go to training, or me ‘chauffeuring her around’, as Kellyann describes it.
“She came out of herself last year. The boys did a lot of work with her, Brian and Tommy (Shefflin).
“They helped her along the way to get her confidence back. That really showed last year when she got on the ball, she did great.
“She is flying. This year she is going from strength to strength.
“It’s nice having her on the team. It’s great when matches are coming up’ you would be buzzing.
“All the aunts will come around wishing us luck. Granny and Grandad are deeply involved. They always go to matches with mam and dad.
“When we were younger, we used to row the whole time. I suppose now since we have been going training together and spending more time together, we have been bonding a lot more and we are a lot closer than we used to be. It’s lovely.”
Kellyann is a mechanical engineer in Integer. New Ross, that has added a new dimension this week as Wexford stands in the champion’s way of progress to the All-Ireland semi-final.
Her freshly-minted degree is in biomedical engineering.
“I would love to get into prosthetics and all that kind of jazz. Maybe down the line, I need to get a bit of experience first.”
From all that we know of Kellyann Doyle, it will happen sooner, rather than later.