ARM­STRONG’S LAST STAND

‘Reg­gie’ gets spe­cial vis­i­tor for fi­nal game

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BEN PLAYS HIS LAST GAME OF RUGBY :

BEN ARM­STRONG ex­pected some emo­tions and maybe even a few tears when he of­fi­cially brought an end to his 30-year rugby ca­reer at the weekend. What he didn’t ex­pect was to be cheered on by his fa­ther who made a 10,000+ mile trip just to do so. Arm­strong is the cap­tain of Grey­stones RFC and a na­tive of Bris­bane, Aus­tralia. On Satur­day, he played his last ever game of rugby as Grey­stones fell short in their pro­mo­tion charge, de­spite a 10-24 vic­tory in the Rebel County. But to make up for that dis­ap­point­ment, Arm­strong spent the weekend with his fa­ther. Arm­strong Sr. had jet­ted into Dublin on Thurs­day and spent two nights in Co. Dublin be­fore sneak­ing down to Cork on the train. When Arm­strong emerged from the chang­ing rooms prior to kick-off, he was greeted by his dad, who he hadn’t seen since the sum­mer. The 38-year old couldn’t be­lieve his eyes but he is now hop­ing to take a leaf out of his fa­ther’s book and spend a lot more time with his fam­ily now that his rugby ca­reer is over. The sec­ond row has been in Ire­land for six years but is like a piece of the fur­ni­ture at Dr. Hickey Park re­cently, where he was named as cap­tain for his fi­nal sea­son. But how does a man from Bris­bane end up on these shores? Arm­strong ex­plains: “I did a level two course with Dan McKel­lar who was over here with Wick­low RFC, he was try­ing to coach here and he got in touch with me to see would I want to come over so I started as a player/coach for Wick­low for three years. “When I fin­ished up with Wick­low, Grey­stones had just been rel­e­gated and Reg­gie (Cor­ri­gan) was com­ing on board as a coach and I was asked would I go up and play and be for­wards coach and one thing lead to an­other, I said I’ll stay for a cou­ple of years and I end up stay­ing for four. It’s been great though. It’s a re­ally good club.” But Arm­strong was no out­sider look­ing in and this was proved as he re­peat­edly took up the cap­tain’s arm­band when needed to over the years be­fore per­ma­nently tak­ing res­i­dence of it this year. “Barry Holmes had done three years (as cap­tain); he’d been in­jured a cou­ple of times so I stood in a cou­ple of times for him and then again last year, I was cap­tain a few times and this year I was back again so they elected me cap­tain. It was very nice. “Be­ing Aus­tralian and hav­ing only been at the club for four years, it was nice to see that the boys (val­ued me). It was prob­a­bly my big­gest hon­our. I coached the 20’s this year too and we won the league which was nice. We beat Trin­ity in the play-off of the All-Irelands so that was nice as well. It’s been great.” With his great­est per­sonal hon­our lurk­ing in the back of his mind, why re­tire? Why now? As Johnny Lo­gan would say, what’s an­other year? “I’m 38 so there is a bit of a fac­tor there. There’s also the fac­tor that I’ve had a good run with­out in­juries and I don’t want to keep push­ing my luck in that sense. You feel like Brian O’Driscoll – that half yard of pace goes; not that I had a yard to start with! “You just think to yourself that you can’t keep push­ing your luck. I’ve got a young fam­ily, I want to be able to keep run­ning around with them. You don’t want to end on a bad note, you want to be able to choose when you end it. Some people are say­ing I could have one more year but it’s bet­ter (to end it now than hear them say) jeez, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t have had one more year. It’s time to pack it in un­for­tu­nately. I knew it was the right de­ci­sion be­cause it wasn’t hard to make.” It is not just on the play­ing field that Arm­strong holds the club in high re­gard. He has a per­sonal con­nec­tion with it too, and is open to the idea of tak­ing up a coach­ing role with the se­nior team next year. “It’s a re­ally good club. They’ve not only ac­cepted me but they’ve ac­cepted my wife and my fam­ily and my son whose started play­ing there. It’s nice to have that in com­mon; he’s started his rugby ca­reer where I’ve fin­ished mine. It is a great club in that sense, it is a fam­ily club. “There’s a pos­si­bil­ity of it (be­com­ing a coach) but it’s up to the club I sup­pose. I have told them that I’d be in­ter­ested in it. It should be in the next cou­ple of weeks (I found out), I think they’re putting out a few feel­ers for dif­fer­ent people and hope­fully if things go well, I’ll be in the mix there some­where. That is an aim of mine.” Would his for­mer team-mates find it dif­fi­cult to ad­just to Arm­strong in a coach­ing role though? “That is one of the is­sues that they’re talk­ing about. The fact that I’m fin­ish­ing with a cou­ple of the other older guys as well is good; there’s a bit of an age gap there. I think you’ve just got to be re­spon­si­ble about it and I think there’s enough re­spect there be­tween us that there wouldn’t be an is­sue as play­ers. They’re used to me in a lead­er­ship role but it just mean that I’m not on the pitch any­more.” Arm­strong has taken as much from rugby as rugby has taken from him. And now with all this ex­tra free time on his hands, he knows how he’ll be spend­ing it. “Look­ing back, I started play­ing at U-7’s so I got a good 30 years. I think for the talent I had, I took it as far as I could go. I played some very good games; I played in Aus­tralia, Wales and Ire­land. I’ve made some life­long friends in all three coun­tries so it’s been a big part of my life and big part of my fam­ily’s life. No re­grets at all which is great. I could look back and won­der what could have been but with the talent I had, I done what I could with it. “I’ll be watch­ing my son play and spend­ing time with him in the back­yard and I’m sure my wife has got lots of jobs for me!” Al­though rugby has pro­vided him with umpteen pre­cious mem­o­ries, it has also taken some­thing from him. In 1995, Arm­strong saw a friend and team-mate die in a tragic on-pitch in­ci­dent. Nearly 20 years on, his undi­luted Aus­tralian tones still seem to carry the hurt of that day. Rugby has been a mas­sive part of Ben Arm­strong’s life. It prob­a­bly al­ways will be. But there’s more to life than rugby and he knows that. So what is next for the life of Arm­strong and fam­ily? Af­ter six years in Ire­land, he is set­tled “for a lit­tle while any­way”. Maybe it’ll be Arm­strong Sr. get­ting the next sur­prise.

TEAM­MATE RE­VIEW

Loud­est? Peter Barry. He thinks he’s a ladies man. Fun­ni­est? Bobby Clancy. He doesn’t say much but when he does, it’s good. Moa­ni­est? Andrew Kealy. Bit of a moaner. Vainest? Barry Holmes. Quite easy. Al­ways look­ing for a mir­ror in the dress­ing room and al­ways fix­ing his hair. Big­gest Mammy’s boy? Andrew Kealy again. Def­i­nitely. Mad­dest ac­cent? Bobby Clancy. There were times in those first cou­ple of years where he’d talk and I’d need a trans­la­tor for the Wex­ford ac­cent. Most craic on night out? Conor Cleary. Al­ways got the en­ergy for a night out no mat­ter what time of the night. Who would you want be­side you in a fight? Peter O’Brien. He’s a Garda so even if you got caught, you’d prob­a­bly be al­right.

Pic­tured at Ben’s last game for Grey­stones RFC are, from left: Fiana Arm­strong, Neil Arm­strong, Ben Arm­strong, Max Arm­strong, Harri Arm­strong, and Aimee Arm­strong.

The for­mi­da­ble Ben Arm­strong in ac­tion.

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