‘Staying fresh mentally is key’ – Galway veteran Paul Conroy showing no signs of slowing down

Galway's Paul Conroy at the announcement that John West will extend its Féile sponsorship until 2025. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Donnchadh Boyle

Time can slip through your fingers like sand. Just ask Paul Conroy.

At the start of last season, the Galway midfielder wasn’t even in the top 10 in terms of football’s longest-serving players. His time with Galway started as soon as it could in 2008 when he was thrust straight into the team just out of his minor year. But in 2022, the game had several longer-serving veterans.

That dynamic has shifted dramatically this time around. The likes of Ross Munnelly, Niall McNamee, Michael Murphy, Neil McGee and David Moran have stepped away. Now, only Monaghan pair Darren Hughes and Conor McManus and Leitrim’s Emlyn Mulligan have seen more road.

He’s 33 now, but that’s not the number that he looks to. The stats, the GPS tells him he’s still operating at a high level. And more importantly, he passes Pádraic Joyce’s eye test too. Conroy has started every league game to date.

“I think you just have to keep working at your game, regardless of your age,” Conroy said. “If you are hitting the figures on the GPS and getting up and down on match day, making the right decisions, I think you don’t need to be worried about the age. It’s how you feel really.

“I think it (GPS) is a good reinforcer. Some people might say ‘X’ and ‘Y’ to people after games, that this person is this or that, or this person is struggling here or they’re this, that or the other.

“But I think when you can see the concrete figures there in front of you, it’s a good reinforcer, particularly early on in the year when you might be on the way back, or lads might be coming back from injury, and you mightn’t have a lot of training done. I think it has its place.

“I was a bit late going back to the group this year, unfortunately our club were in relegation trouble so we didn’t finish up until mid-November, so I just took a couple of weeks off. Even mentally, because we went straight from an All-Ireland final to the club to relegation, which is not where you want to be, but we got out of that anyway.

“Staying fresh mentally is key and you see an awful lot of lads talking about that in the last couple of weeks, so I probably had to catch up on some training and that, but I’ve been enjoying it the last couple of weeks.”

Galway put down an impressive 2022. They played in every final they could, from the FBD league to the Division 2 decider and Connacht and All-Ireland showpieces. It means the bar is high for Joyce’s side this year.

After a shaky start that saw them take one point from games with Mayo and Roscommon, the graph is trending upwards once again. They face Kerry this weekend in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, where a win or a draw will guarantee them a place in the league final. Even a loss might still be enough depending on other results. The Tribesmen have two weeks between a potential league final and the start of their championship, more than enough time Conroy insists.

“We haven’t any Division 1 league medals in our dressing room and we don’t have the challenge of being out the week after so we’re just trying to go out and win every game and improve our performance.

“We have a massive one coming this weekend against Kerry. So we are definitely in a position where we would like an extra game and it would be great to get a game early in Croke Park if we are good enough.”

The big prize will be in Jones’s Road in a few months’ time. Does Conroy subscribe to the maxim that you have to lose one to win one?

“I don’t really know, it would be nice to not have to lose one to win one. I suppose you gain experience from it.

“To be honest, I’m not really thinking much about last year. I’m thinking about this year. If you take your eye off the ball at all, particularly in Division 1, if you’re thinking about last week or next week, you’re going to struggle with every game you’re playing at the minute. You just try to focus on that and drive things on within your camp.”