Friday 24 November 2017

Armstrong sees light at end of Galway's bleak year

A good run with his club has re-energised the Galway forward, writes Marie Crowe

Losing to Antrim in the qualifiers was a dark day for Seán Armstrong. He found it hard to make sense of what happened in those 70 minutes in Belfast. He couldn't understand how, for the fourth year in a row, Galway had been dumped out of the championship by the narrowest of margins before it had even got going. It wasn't supposed to go that way.

Galway's league campaign went okay. If it wasn't for a last-minute penalty against Kildare, they would have sealed promotion to Division 1. They then emerged from Hyde Park with a massive win over Roscommon in the championship, and their confidence went up another notch. A provincial semi-final against Sligo came next and this is where it all went wrong.

"We were going fine in the first half but then in the second half the wheels came off, and we were just stuck," explains Armstrong. "Losing to Sligo wasn't in our script, if I'm being honest; we overlooked them a bit and it knocked us back and then we were into the qualifiers and Galway haven't won a qualifier in years. We were on the back foot facing Antrim, we lost again."

Armstrong couldn't face football after that loss, he needed to take some time off to try and make sense of what had happened. So he took two weeks away from football before returning to his club Salthill-Knocknacarra to get stuck into the club championship. Getting back training and playing with the lads he grew up with helped to get him back on track. The return of the inter-county players to the club brought a buzz to the set-up and Armstrong began to enjoy his football again.

Over the summer months things came together for Salthill-Knocknacarra. Although the teacher concedes that they were on the easier side of the championship draw to their opposition for today's county final, Tuam Stars, they've still impressed, gathering momentum with each passing game.

"All year we've been playing with the shackles off, we've tried to enjoy the game and play to the best of our ability. We're not going to worry too much about Tuam and go play our own game. At the start of the year our aim was to get to a county final and if we win it then it's a bonus. We're here now and it's up to us."

This challenge has whetted Armstrong's appetite for competitive football again and helped motivate him. For the first time in a long time the bookies have made Galway third favourites to win Connacht.

This helps to get him going too. He has spoken to some of the other lads on the panel and they feel the same -- they want a chance to redeem themselves. "If we can reach our potential whatever that may be then that's fine but I don't think as a team, as a collective unit that we did that last year. That's why lads are keen to get back and right that," he says.

"Although our results weren't great, I think Alan Mulholland did a fine job with us last year, the squad is starting to come together now. There is a good bit of youth coming through from the under 21s that won the All-Ireland and Alan would have learned a lot too."

Injuries have blighted Armstrong's career. He's only 26 but there have been countless interruptions to his football because of a long-term hamstring issue. It's been two years now since it has bothered him but this reprieve has come as result of careful monitoring and management.

All of last winter and the league campaign was spent getting his body right. He focused on championship and being 100 per cent for when it mattered most and his patience paid off. There has been no recurrence so far but Armstrong isn't taking any risks with it.

"Unfortunately, I can't train like I used to. The key to it is managing my workload. What's more important to me sometimes is rest and recovery and working on the finer rehab and prehab exercises while the lads are training and I think we've found a good formula that works for me.

"It's hard, though, watching the lads training hard, doing the intense runs, getting fit and you want to be out there but that doesn't work for me. Every now and then you just have to pull back and rest. Anyone who's ever been injured knows that the place a player wants to be is out on the pitch with the team, not in the gym on their own."

But for today it's all about beating Tuam Stars and winning the county title. They've done it before, back in 2005, and even took it a step further and won the All-Ireland club title on St Patrick's Day in 2006. Armstrong knows what it takes to be a winner; he wants to be one again and today is the perfect opportunity to return to winning ways.

Sunday Indo Sport

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