Armagh footballer Niall Grimley suffered a broken neck last year in a freak accident in training and is delighted to be back on the field of play.
By Shaun Casey
IT was almost two years to the day since Niall Grimley last pulled on the Madden shirt and lined out for his club, but last Sunday evening at the Athletic Grounds he made his long-awaited return.
Madden’s first-round defeat to Crossmaglen in the 2021 championship was the last time Grimley wore the red and black and he put his injury nightmare behind him with a second-half appearance against Armagh Harps.
A broken neck suffered in Armagh training ended his 2022 season while a knee injury earlier this year sidelined the big midfielder for almost five months. But now, Grimley is just glad to be back playing ball.
“It’s been a long time,” said the Armagh and Madden midfielder. “It’s been two years since I put the Madden jersey on so it’s unbelievable.
“Any day you get to represent your club, it’s unbelievable. We’re very much family orientated so it’s brilliant. It’s just another game I suppose but for me it’s great to be back.”
Grimley’s last game of football was in the final round of the league as Armagh suffered relegation to Division Two following a two-point loss to arch-rivals Tyrone, in a game where Grimley pointed a mark.
But it’s been all rehab from there for Grimley, who made his Armagh debut against Laois in the 2016 qualifiers, and he’s looking to add to the “healthy” competition for places built up in the Madden panel.
“Last year with the neck, that was five or six months (out) and then with the knee this year, I think my last full game was with Armagh on the 26th of March so that’s just over five months ago.
“It’s brilliant to be back and in fairness to the lads, they had a decent league campaign so it’s great to be back into the team and the competition for places is healthy.”
Grimley got a good old-fashioned championship welcome when he entered the playing field, feeling the full force of a couple of Harps players, but that’s the cut and thrust that Grimley has been longing for.
“I came on and I got two kickouts. I got emptied for one and then I got emptied in the middle of the field as well, but I suppose you do need that just to be back in the thick of it. It’s great to be back in and playing with the lads.
“I was like a child on Christmas Eve there today, just dying to get on. I was delighted to get on, Mickey (Grimley, the manager) had said to me during the week that he wasn’t going to start me, so I knew my job was to come on and do whatever I was asked to do.”
Madden looked to be in cruise control against the Harps but conceded two late goals to draw the game. That point was enough for Grimley’s men to top their group and head straight to the quarter-finals.
The Raparees finished third in Division 1A, losing a title decider against Clann Eireann in the final round, but that top four finish saw them enter the round-robin stages of the championship as top seeds.
The main target was to finish top of the group after three games against Silverbridge, Shane O’Neill’s and Armagh Harps and while Madden didn’t complete the trio of victories, they’re still unbeaten in the championship.
“We’re very disappointed to concede those two late goals at the end,” explained Grimley. “We were six points up at that stage and we should really be seeing out the game and winning by five, six or seven.
“We’ve work to do in that respect but the objective at the start of the championship was to top the group and get to the quarter-final. That gives me another couple of weeks of training which is great.
“The Harps dug deep there to get those two goals at the end. They were pushing on hard, and we were a man down so in the balance of things, I think we were nearly happy enough with the draw, but we’re also disappointed to have been six points up and to concede two goals.”
Madden have been looking to make the breakthrough over the past number of years but have yet to get past the last eight.
“This team has been building for a couple of years and we have made quarter finals here and there this last four or five years so for this team, it’s the next step,” added Grimley.
“We’re looking forward to the draw and we’ll be pushing hard for the next couple of weeks.
“We know there’s clearly still work to be done here, so we’ll be pushing hard over the next few weeks, and I’ll definitely be pushing hard, that’s for sure.”