'I'm just absolutely delighted I came back' - a Galway championship return after 34 months

A significant day in Salthill for Seán Armstrong.

SEÁN ARMSTRONG COULD not conceal his joy.

Sean Armstrong is congratulated by supporters Sean Armstrong celebrates Galway's win with fans. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Whisked away from the invading Galway hordes at Pearse Stadium yesterday by The Sunday Game interview crew, it was clear how deeply this success resonated with him.

It was the second year in succession that the Galway football fraternity were experiencing that winning feeling in Connacht against Mayo.

But whereas last summer Armstrong was an onlooker, yesterday the 31-year-old was in the thick of the action.

In Decemeber 2014 he had walked away from the inter-county scene, his appetite for the game having diminished.

But he still kicked ball locally and was instrumental in Salthill-Knocknacarra’s march to last October’s county senior final, a factor that prompted Kevin Walsh to sound the attacker out about a return last winter.

And yesterday the wisdom behind that comeback decision was illustrated.

Armstrong was a standout figure in Pearse Stadium, the venue next door to his club’s home pitch, weighing in with 0-6 as he demonstrated in style his prowess from placed balls.

You have to go back to August 2014 for his last championship outing for Galway and 34 months after coming on as a substitute in that quarter-final loss to Kerry, Armstrong was visibly struggling to absorb the fact that he was a player on the main stage once more.

“I just can’t describe that now,” he told RTÉ’s Claire McNamara.

“If you asked me a couple of years ago would I be here, I’d tell you, you were mad. I’m just absolutely delighted I came back.

“I have to pay a lot of thanks to Kevin and the backroom team and all the lads. It’s just been fantastic.

“There’s a real strong bond there and a real belief there. It’s fantastic to be a part of it.”

It’s easy to gauge the significance of this victory for Armstrong. He exploded on to the national football landscape in 2005, taking the Cork defence for 0-6 in an All-Ireland U21 semi-final and then dovetailing in the final against Down with Michael Meehan to devastating effect as the pair bagged a hat-trick apiece.

Sean Armstrong 7/5/2005 Seán Armstrong in action in the 2005 All-Ireland U21 final. Source: INPHO

That same summer Armstrong came off the bench in a Connacht senior final win over Mayo – a trick he repeated in 2008 – but after that Galway were in the provincial wilderness and endured a couple of miserable seasons where their campaigns concluded with dispiriting qualifier exits against Wexford (2010) and Antrim (2012).

Tony Scullion and Sean Armstrong Disappointment for Seán Armstrong and the Galway footballers against Antrim in 2012. Source: ©Russell Pritchard/Presseye

When Galway ended their drought in Connacht last July, the secondary school teacher was at a wedding in Mayo.

It’s natural to consider whether regrets were harboured at missing out on that triumph.

Yet when he spoke in April to The42, there was a sense that the time away from the game had fueled his passion once more.

“At the time it was easier for me to walk away from it because I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t see why I should keep doing it. The year out definitely rejuvenated me a little bit.

“Kevin and the management team gave me a buzz and asked would I be interested in coming back to the Galway set-up.

“I had a few meetings with them and I was very happy to go back. We were all singing off the same hymn sheet and honestly since I went back I’ve been really enjoying it.

“I’ve got absolutely no regrets. There’s a nice mixture of the youth and the older fellas like myself.

“It’s been a pleasure going back to training again. You have the team weekends away and stuff like that, it’s good aul’ craic.”

The return could not have been scripted better. He was excellent in April when Galway halted that losing Croke Park streak the county has cursed over the last 16 years, contributing three important points in the league final success against Kildare.

Sean Armstrong celebrates Seán Armstrong celebrates Galway's win over Kildare in April. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Yesterday he doubled that scoring return – matching the tally that he’d registered at the Salthill venue in last year’s Galway county final.

12 years after his first Connacht senior final, the prospect of another appearance next month is one that Armstrong will savour.

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Fintan O'Toole

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