Monday 14 October 2019

Armstrong's second coming in maroon jersey helps him to rediscover lost love for the game

Sean Armstrong Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Armstrong Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

While researching potential honeymoon destinations with his fiancée Fiona, who he marries in October, a thought struck Seán Armstrong that reflected how much he had re-immersed himself back into inter-county football.

Armstrong stepped away from the game at that level at the end of 2014, disillusioned and disengaged at the age of 28.

He stayed away for the first two years of Kevin Walsh's managerial reign, content that the desire to play again wasn't burning within him. But when Walsh came calling again at the end of 2016, something stirred in him to accept his offer to come back.

Now, 18 months into the second coming that Armstrong never legislated for beyond a year, his thoughts have, inadvertently, turned to next year. If the honeymoon goes ahead as planned in 2019, how might that align with Galway? Will he be with Galway?

"I was looking at it, weighing up do I give another year next year? I'll find it very hard to go away from this set-up. I'll find it hard to hang up the boots," he acknowledges.

"I've enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed any other set-up. A lot of credit to Kevin and the people he has around him. Before, it was quite easy for me to go. I wasn't really happy playing inter-county but now I don't even think about it, I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and try to get as much out of it as I possibly can."

For Armstrong to be even thinking about football in 2019 is quite a progression from where he was last October when a huge question mark hung over his future. Two bulging discs in his back had left him in considerable discomfort even before his Galway return.

After landing six points against Mayo in their Connacht semi-final, he missed the subsequent provincial decider against Roscommon when his back went "into spasm" after a club game with Salthill-Knocknacarra.

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He recovered, got through the games against Donegal and Kerry to make a significant contribution but on club duty again it flared up once more and this time he sensed lasting trouble to the point where standing at a board in class for too long left him in distress.

"Last summer was torture for me," he recalls. "Just after the Mayo game I played a club game and remember waking up on the Monday morning after in serious pain. It came to a point where that week I broke down in a series of spasms. I'd get a spasm or two before and it would normally settle down after a couple of days, you take a bit of physio and take a couple of muscle relaxers to calm it down but this wouldn't calm down. I got it into decent enough shape for the rest of the championship, then I went back with my club and it broke down again there."

A trip to consultant éanna Falvey in the Santry Sports Clinic put him on a new path to recovery, however, and has given him a greater sense of optimism about how long he can continue into the future.

"It was only with him when I sat down and he said, 'Look, if you do this for the next eight to 10 weeks and see where you're at, you should be 100 per cent,' that I got lots of confidence. He said he had seen it before. So I went on a fairly rigorous rehab programme for November/December and into early January."

A more tailored approach to training for each individual has also helped. "That extra bit of discipline to get to the gym to do all those annoying little exercises that you have to keep on top of. It's easy to go to the gym to lift weights but it's the other stuff that you have to give preference to, the smaller little exercises for prehab and rehab that you have to keep on top of. It's working for me anyway."

He's more relaxed about his football than he had been prior to his departure. Experience has taught him patience and while he's listed to start tomorrow's match with Mayo in Castlebar, he's just as content to make an impact off the bench.

energy "Funny enough, when you're young and you don't start, you're thick and you want to start. You feel you're in the prime, in your 20s and you have so much energy and on top of your game. When you're the elder statesmen and the oldest lad on the panel and you don't get the nod, you think, 'Well, they're going for legs and I might be brought on with 20 or 25 minutes to go when the game opens up.'

"I'm quite happy to play that role and if they want to start me and, with 50 minutes gone, take me off and replace me with fresh legs I'm happy to play that role too. I'm really enjoying the football at the minute, feel I'm playing some of the best football I've played in a long time."

This year he senses a very "player-driven" Galway set-up, encouraged by Walsh. "Obviously Kevin facilitates, putting the plans and the systems in place but this year, more than any other year, players really seem to have taken ownership of it."

He laughs at the idea that Galway are now considered anything from robust to dirty in their approach. The 'soft touch' that they were considered for much of his previous time involved has been eroded.

"Rightly or wrongly, we have been given this, that maybe we're being a bit too brash and a bit too physical. It's funny, in years gone by it was said that we are a soft touch and now we're trying to make an impact on Division 1 and trying to improve. If you are going to look at your weaknesses, well the weakness was maybe we were a soft touch. So how do you stand up for yourself on the football field?"

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