The first few matches he watched as a spectator this spring were tough for Tommy Conroy. In the end, he didn't attend all of Mayo's National League games.
"There are moments in the games where you're watching, and you really want to contribute, and really want to be involved," says Conroy, speaking at the launch of Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps.
"It's definitely difficult, and I still find it difficult to watch. I wouldn't be the best onlooker."
In early February, Conroy suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury while playing for NUI Galway against Letterkenny IT in the Sigerson Cup. It was the first serious injury of his career. He'd "never pulled a muscle or broke a bone" before.
"I was taking on a man, a fella coming towards me, and I just tried to plant to go around him and I felt it pop when it happened," he recalls.
"It knew it was something strange. It's a very strange feeling. I didn't know going home in the car what it was. I did start getting hope then because when I went home that night it wasn't that swollen and there wasn't that much pain.
"I did start getting hope then that it might be another ligament, that it mightn't be as serious. That made the shock of getting the scan a bit worse. I got the scan the following morning, which confirmed it."
Conroy got surgery at the Santry Sports Clinic four weeks to the day after suffering the injury. He had to let the swelling go down and do some prehab exercises prior to going under the knife.
"I'm nearly eight weeks now since the surgery," he says.
"The whole initial thing of when you're planning out things and you can't really walk too far and stuff like that, that's totally gone so I'm back to fully having normality back. Rehab is going well.
"I'm being able to progress it on week by week and seeing a lot of progress. Probably not as much as I was seeing in the first couple of weeks but I suppose that's to be expected because the first couple of weeks I found it amazing how quick things were progressing, going from barely being able to get out of the bed to nearly walking in the space of a week, a week and a half. It was amazing in that respect.
"I remember when I was walking around after 10 days and I was joking saying, 'Sure I might be back for a Connacht final or something along those lines'. No, that definitely won't be happening I'm afraid. But it's nice to see these positive moments I suppose."
'I'll be down to most Mayo training sessions'
Conroy says he'd never missed a major game prior to the injury. So not being able to play as NUI Galway won the Sigerson Cup, and Mayo made it to the National League final, was a new experience.
In just two seasons of senior inter-county football, the Neale man has become a key forward for a Mayo side which reached consecutive All-Ireland finals.
"I'd like to think that I'm mentally strong but I've definitely got help from teammates that would have gone through something similar," he says.
"Unfortunately we've plenty of lads to reach out to, between Jason Doherty and Cillian O'Connor over the last couple of years. They've had major injuries and they're experienced players, really good fellas. They were very good to me and lent pieces of advice about how to deal with it.
"I try to get down as much as I can for me personally to feel like I'm part of the group and being able to contribute. I want to help teammates as much as I can.
"So if that means sitting in the stands and watching a bit of training and trying to spot something, or something along those lines, it's something I like doing. I'm in the middle of my [NUI Galway] exams at the minute so it's hectic timewise. For the summer I'll be down to most sessions and trying to contribute."
Conroy hasn't set a "proper target" for when he'll return to action.
"I have to acknowledge that I'll have 10-plus years hopefully playing football," he says.
"So in the back of my head I want to make sure that I rehab the injury as best I can rather than trying to come back as quick as I can, if you get me? If you come back too quick it could affect it as well.
"It'll probably be the end of the year [when I can play again]. It's hard to know how I'll fare out in terms of playing a bit of club. At the minute I'm just taking it week by week. I'm just trying to do as much as I can at the minute to try to get me back to full fitness and get back as good as I can when the time does come at the end of the year."
The Sigerson Cup game in which Conroy suffered his injury was played just days after he lined out for Mayo in the opening game of the National League against Donegal. Conroy says that at the time, he "didn't want to think" about the possibility that playing two games in such proximity could have been a factor in the injury.
"I suppose I didn't want to know the answer, whether it affected it or not," he says.
"I'm sure it probably didn't help but at the same time I could have been resting for a month and still got the same injury so you'll never know. Yeah, it definitely is a hectic time period for anyone involved in both Sigerson and inter-county. Yeah, there probably is a bit too much going on at that time of the year.
"I'd probably prefer if they could run them separately because the Sigerson is a prestigious competition and it needs to be kept that way. Also, the National League is becoming so important nowadays, so high profile that players, definitely for me anyway, I'd like to play both if possible. I suppose, yeah, people probably need to sit down and put something in place for the players that they don't have to be worrying about it themselves."
The Camps are anticipating an extra level of excitement this year with numbers back at full capacity across the country following Covid restrictions. Camps will kick off on Monday, June 27th and will run up to August 26th. GAA clubs across the country are set to be a hive of activity this summer with bookings for participants aged 6-13 now open. For more information visit: www.gaa.ie/kelloggsculcamps.
Featured image: 11 September 2021; Tommy Conroy of Mayo during the pre-match parade before the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Mayo and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile