AN INTERNATIONAL grand final appearance, a surprise health issue and the threat of an oncoming cyclone made for the experience of a lifetime for a local hockey star.
Grafton's Maddy Richey travelled as part of the Australian Country under-21 hockey team to Fiji for the Oceania Pacific Cup last month.
The sole Valley representative, Richey found her place on the field at left half, where coach Wally Gaynor said she excelled.
The team's performances were enough to get it in to the grand final of the Cup without dropping a game.
"It was really good to be a part of a national team and play against people at the same level," Richey said.
"There were teams from Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and a team representing the New Zealand Maori.
"We played them all in a round-robin format and managed to get into the final."
Country Australia conceded only one goal on their way to the final, with grand final opponent Fiji the only team to get behind the green and gold defence in the group stage.
They won all other games convincingly, including a 17-0 win over Vanuatu where Richey sneaked onto the scorer's sheet for her only goal of the tournament.
The run of luck came to an end in the final, with Fiji triumphing 2-1.
It marked the end of the tournament for Richey but the start of what could be described as an adventure in itself.
A series of unfortunate events culminated in all players falling ill with bacterial infections from the sprinklers used on the playing field turf.
"Everyone that played on the field ended up getting a bit sick," Richey said.
"We had been prepared beforehand and told to take gastro tablets to prevent getting too sick.
"People usually get a bit of an upset stomach from travelling, but some of the players ended up getting the worse end of the stick."
If that wasn't enough to contend with, the first cyclone of the season was en route to the popular holiday spot.
Luckily for Richey and the rest of the team, Tropical Cyclone Evan crossed over the north part of the main island.
"We were staying around the bottom of Fiji so we didn't get hit by much at all," Richey said.
"There was some pretty decent rain and a bit of wind around but it was nice to avoid the cyclone."
The next stop on Richey's calendar is the U21 New South Wales trials in Sydney next month.
Richey said the state team would be tough to break into, but hoped her recent national experience could push her across the line.
"A few of the girls from the national team are involved, but I'm hopeful I can do that little bit more," Richey said.
"I'm slightly confident I can do it but we'll have to wait and see."
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