Once and then twice in the same sentence Tommy Conroy talks about the rough eight weeks or two months since his season ended as a Mayo footballer, and clearly only time is marking him now.
It was the first Wednesday last February when word first emerged that Conroy would miss the rest of the 2022 season, the young forward sustaining the dreaded cruciate ligament injury tear to his left knee while playing with NUI Galway in the Sigerson Cup quarter-final the evening before.
The Neale club player left the field of play shortly before half time, receiving treatment on his knee during the break: he did not return to the action.
Mayo host Galway in Castlebar in the Connacht football championship quarter-final this Sunday, and Conroy will be there, not playing but contributing in whatever way he can.
“I was in good hands with Ray Moran in Santry, one of the best in the business. I can do bits on the bike now, am nearly back to full rotation, just not running yet, maybe another four weeks from now.
“So two months now, or eight weeks since the surgery, and everything is going to plan. There is no great pain now in terms of everyday mobility, I don’t have to worry anymore about walking this far or not.
“The first two weeks was tough, but after I can’t believe really how quickly it improves, I’m delighted with the way it’s going. I’m actually enjoying the rehab now, progressing it on.”
The moment itself is clearly still fresh and lasting.
“I felt a pop when it happened, yeah, but for me it just went numb, and the next morning I found out obviously. The first two or three days was very tough, but I’m very luck all my team mates and friends were very good to me, looked after me that way. So after two or three days you start putting plans in place, and the more positive journey you make it the easier it will be, and the better it will go.”
Given his schedule at the time, mixing the third-level competition smack bang in the middle of the league, Conroy is asked if changes need to be made?
“I wouldn’t say I have any regrets on that case. At the same time I think something should be done in terms of overplaying for lads my age, under-20 panels. I suppose it is difficult for the player, something probably needs to chance, there is too much going on around that period.
“At my age all you want to do is play football, and it can be difficult I suppose to have that conversation, wanting to play X or play Y, it can be difficult in that regard.
“The national league has become so important and high profile now, if you have to miss three games it would be a hard thing to do. Now with the split season that might give a bit of leeway, if you finished the Sigerson before the national league maybe.”
At the time Mayo football manager James Horan commented on the nature and timing on the injury, speaking about the loss to the team, though he said Conroy would remain very much part of the panel.
“Tommy is such a great person and player, we all wish him well during his rehabilitation,” said Horan. “Tommy will still play a huge part in Mayo’s season, and will remain very much part of the panel. Unfortunately, injuries like this are part of sport. I know all the players will rally around Tommy, and I am sure it will galvanise the entire team, but I know his injury will inspire other players to drive forward, step up and follow in his boots.”
Conroy is still very much part of that scene. “I try to get down as much as I can, link up with the lads, even watching training, I feel I’m still a part of it. The first month, month and a half, I found it very difficult, but at the minute I’ve got to the stage where I acknowledge I won’t be able to contribute on the field this year. I’ve come to terms with that. It’s going to be six months time before I come back to full fitness.
“I don’t have any specific role, no, in terms of the management team. It’s just if anything I can spot, help in any way I can. This weekend we know Mayo-Galway is a great rivalry, and there will definitely be as much bite as ever. Both teams will be looking for the shortest route to a Connacht final, both teams will definitely.”
He also credits the likes of Andy Moran, Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor, Mayo players who endured their own injury setbacks.
“They were very good to me. Just saying that if you find it tough, that’s okay, it’s a big thing to go through, it’s not going to be easy. So I’m just thinking what I can do, week by week, to get back playing, but I haven’t put a target in date or anything like that. If you start looking at the broader picture you can lose touch with what you’re doing at the present.”
“I definitely have a lot more time, will play a little more golf, try to bring my handicap down a bit. I do a bit of fishing as well, so I’ll put some time into that as well.”
Tommy Conroy is an ambassador to Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps, which return 2022, starting on Monday, June 27th, up to August 26th. Booking for participants aged 6-13 now open.