ARMSTRONG’S LAST STAND
‘Reggie’ gets special visitor for final game
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.
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.