Downey on the up again after injury woe
When you fear you’ve kicked your last ball in anger, the moans of disgruntled fans pale into insignificance.
Ballymena United have had a roller-coaster of a season thus far, but Conor Downey wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world after a series of horrific injuries.
The 29-year-old midfielder, who won an Irish League championship medal with Linfield back in 2007, returns to Windsor Park tomorrow to face his old team and win or lose there will be a smile on his face.
Yes, the three points are important, but having spent three years on the sidelines, just running onto the turf is a victory.
“I thought I was going to have to retire, I didn’t think I was going to get back,” admitted Downey.
“And when I did come back I was getting frustrated because I wasn’t at the level I had been at and that annoyed me too.
“Things like that were getting on top of me and it was a confidence thing. You were asking ‘can I play like that again?’, but then at training at times you were feeling really good and thinking ‘well, I can’ so you just keep pushing forward.”
And that’s the adage he and his team-mates are adopting as they attempt to climb the table and nip in the bud rising unrest by the Braid and the need for boss Roy Walker to look at his own position come the New Year.
“We’ve lost those games, they’re gone now, we have to look forward now,” added Downey.
“We’re in the semi-final of the cup and we’ve Linfield this Saturday and we just have to take it one game at a time with the same attitude and application.
“I’ve been around a few clubs and I genuinely believe there’s ability here. I think a lot of time it’s belief in how you play yourself. There were things that did need tweaked but I think some players need to believe a bit more.
“Some days when you roll your sleeves up and knuckle down you say ‘hang on, I can play a bit’ and things start to happen. But we’re definitely better than what we’re showing, I saw it in pre-season and in some matches this season, we have players in this team who I really rate as good players and if we keep working hard it’ll come good on the pitch.”
As for his own form, he feels it is coming back, slowly but surely, to the levels that made him one of the most sought after commodities in the local game during his main stint at Cliftonville.
“I always knew that it wouldn’t just happen again overnight. I was out for three years so it’s just going to be one game at a time and hopefully I can recover that form,” he said.
“It was osteitis pubis, the same injury that Jonathan Woodgate got at Spurs and he was out for two years too. I was out a year before that with my cruciate, so I was only back half-a-season at Linfield when it went.
“One thing you find when you’re out that long is that you don’t come back the same player straight away. You find it takes time. You can do all the training sessions you want, but it’s more about games. You can look good and feel good in training but it’s a different mentality in the game.”
He admits his time at Linfield ended with a whimper, but he is looking forward to his return.
“Linfield treated me brilliantly, the fans and the boys were first class, but I was thinking about Cliftonville a lot,” he admitted.
“I was honest with Davy (Jeffrey) (pictured with Downey). Although he was reluctant to let me go at the time, and I tried to persevere, but it got to a point where I just wanted to go back because I was always thinking about Cliftonville and that wasn’t fair to Linfield.
“It came to a head and I went back to Cliftonville and as soon as I got back, my second game, bang and out for two years.
“But that’s all in the past and these things happen for reason.
“I’m looking forward to going back to Windsor. I’m looking forward to every game.”
A win at Windsor would be fairytale stuff, but it’s already a story with a happy ending for local football’s comeback kid.