Conroy dreams of playing on All-Ireland final day at a packed Croke Park
The dream of playing an All-Ireland final in front of a packed Croke Park is inspiring Mayo’s Tommy Conroy as he faces into his second season representing James Horan’s side, writes Declan Rooney.
The 21-year-old from Cong made his championship, Croke Park and All-Ireland final debut in 2020, but none of his close friends and family were there in person to see his achievements.
He says that playing an All-Ireland final against Dublin at an empty Croke Park last December was a surreal but calming experience, and he is excited by the knowledge that the supporters he once stood among will soon be back on the sidelines.
“The whole season was different. I hadn’t played in one before, but there was definitely something different about it,” said The Neale club man Conroy.
“I remember sitting on the bus to the All-Ireland final and thinking how different it would be if there were 100,000 people knocking around the streets and everyone looking at you. I thought, ‘This would be so much different if there were fans around’.
“I didn’t treat it as anything different. I didn’t feel any different to any other game I played last year. Obviously, it was a disappointing end to a year and because your season ends and you don’t get the silverware, it can take away from it.
“You don’t really think of the season as a whole. Sometimes you judge yourself on the ending rather than the whole season gone.
“But I suppose, that got me thinking then that rather than judge things on the final, I should look at the season as a whole. Definitely, going forward, I got an awful lot of learnings from that. Hopefully for the year ahead I can work on them and hopefully bring them into the season.”
Conroy made his Mayo debut in their round one league draw with Donegal in January last year. He played all seven and scored in six of Mayo’s games in that competition, but really caught the eye with three points in their memorable 3-23 to 0-17 win over Galway in Tuam.
A goal on his championship debut against Leitrim cemented his place in the starting team for the latter end of the year, while another seven points combined against Galway and Tipperary earned him an All-Star nomination and left him in the running for the Young Footballer of the Year award alongside team-mate Eoghan McLaughlin and his friend from school in Ballinrobe CS, Oisín Mullin. That made it a sweet moment indeed, and seeing Mullin win an All-Star as well as the Young Footballer of the Year accolade was a real thrill.
“Oisin and I were in the same class in secondary school. We’ve been best friends all the way up since first year,” said Conroy.
“We played school football all the way up, so we were lucky to be successful with the school. We are both in college in Galway too and we live close to each other there too.
“I am pretty proud to see the way he has developed all the way up and to see him win an All-Star too was a proud moment for me as well as him.”
Year two as a Mayo starter will be very different for Conroy following the retirements of so many of the county’s stars in the off-season. He admits it was a nervy time graduating to the panel with them, but he was determined to leave his days of hero worshiping behind him.
“Initially it was a strange thing. I remember the first few times going down. It is only a couple of years since I was in Croke Park looking at these lads like heroes. If you met them in the street and they said hello to you it’d make your day.
“Now I’m going down and trying to take their position on the field. It’s funny alright, all of a sudden you are in there. But if you stand around there looking at them, keeping looking up to them as if they are heroes, you are not going to get anywhere on that team sheet.
“I know a few of them have retired since but to learn from them, the experience some of them had, it helped a lot of us in our first year there. Some of those lads played in six or seven All-Ireland finals. To be able to learn from them was really good for us. We have picked up a lot from them.”
- Read more from Tommy in the print issue of The Connaught Telegraph this week, on sale tomorrow.