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Stefan Campbell: Opening up about my gambling habit helped me train and play better for Armagh

 

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Stefan Campbell in action for Armagh

Stefan Campbell in action for Armagh

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Campbell scores a penalty against Cavan in January.

Campbell scores a penalty against Cavan in January.

©INPHO/Philip McGowan

Stefan Campbell in action for Armagh

With Gaelic games in lockdown indefinitely due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport has introduced a series with Armagh's All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville, chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.

Today, Stefan 'Soupy' Campbell is arguably one of the most natural and gifted forwards in Ulster, but don't be fooled into thinking he is just a finisher or he relies on talent alone.

He has added power and pace to his game to make him feared by defences up and down the country. Despite being someone in and out of the Armagh team for a number of years, his new-found maturity means he is one of the first names on Kieran McGeeney's team sheet.

Oisin: How are you positioned with work during this crisis?

Stefan: I work with Thompson Aerospace. We manufacture seats for aeroplanes and I’m a production controller. It’s a great fit for me as it’s 10 minutes from home. I suppose I’m lucky I’m still working. I’ve this week off on holiday and the weather is good, so I can get outside to train a couple of times a day and get some much-needed Vitamin D. It’s strange because for the first time ever you are training with no obvious end goal and no game in sight. That makes it difficult to keep your mind on the training with just not knowing what’s going to happen fixtures-wise.

Oisin: How do you keep your mind on football during this crisis?

Stefan: Well, we have plenty of direction and we obviously have GPS. Those reports are sent out, so we all know what’s expected and required and everyone is accountable. We have smaller WhatsApp groups with leaders in each group, which is another way of us all being accountable for each other.

We have numbers we have to hit and no one wants to fall below the numbers that you are expected to be hitting. It’s good because it gives you an opportunity to see where your team-mates are at. I have a few guys I look out for, especially Niall Grimley, because when it comes to the running that’s who I need to be up there with.

In terms of ball work I’d be thinking, “How many touches or shots is Grugan or the O’Neills getting off?” There’s a healthy rivalry there.

I had a down week a few weeks ago. I think I was feeling sorry for myself because everybody was off and had loads of time to train while I was getting home from work and trying to squeeze the sessions in. I found that difficult for a week, but then I got my head around it and I’m back where I need to be now.

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Campbell scores a penalty against Cavan in January.

Campbell scores a penalty against Cavan in January.

©INPHO/Philip McGowan

Campbell scores a penalty against Cavan in January.

 

Oisin: What advice have you been able to offer the younger lads on the panel at this time?

Stefan: I suppose really I’ve just been an ear if they need anything, maybe advice on how to mix their sessions up. Conor Turbitt is in my smaller WhatsApp group and he has taken it all in his stride since coming in. He is helped by coming from a steady home and has good influences around him. In general, the lads coming in are great footballers. As older lads — I’m 28 now — we are able to affirm things like belief with them.

Oisin: How good are the young lads coming through in Armagh?

Stefan: I broke through with lads from the great minor team of 2008 — Rory Grugan, Niall Rowland etc — and these new lads, like Rian O’Neill, Conor Turbitt, Conor O’Neill and Jason Duffy, have no fear. If Jason gets belief he will be an unbelievable weapon for us.

I remember one of my first games was against Kildare in the League, and I came in to that game and I thought I was primed and ready, but I soon realised early on that I was nowhere near (in terms of) the pace of the game and the fitness of the lads you are coming up against.

These lads are different. They are ready and that’s what makes them special. They bring other people into the game also, which shows their maturity.

Oisin: You took 12 months out a few years back to play soccer with Lurgan Celtic, why?

Stefan: That was 2017 after we’d been beaten by Tyrone 3-17 to 0-8, a humiliating 18-point defeat. I had a certain amount of arrogance about me at that time, even though there was no basis for that as I’d never done that much in an Armagh jersey that gave me the right to be so arrogant.

I felt I wasn’t ready to go back at the same time as the rest of the lads. To be fair to Geezer (Kieran McGeeney), he was willing to give me the extra time, but even by Christmas I still wasn’t ready to be running round a track.

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Kieran McGeeney

Kieran McGeeney

�INPHO/James Crombie

Kieran McGeeney

 

My head wasn’t right and I was still gambling at that time. I played soccer to keep myself ticking over.

I said I would then take the year and maybe that could help prolong my career rather than play when the motivation wasn’t there.

I headed to New York that June and got that out of my system also. I had previously gone there in 2015 as well.

I was gambling at that stage and had stopped out there, but it wasn’t long after coming home that I fell back into the same old rut.

In 2017, when I came home, I opened up to my parents about my gambling and I gained huge support after opening up. People may have seen me tweet about it. I got huge support. It was really tough at the start, but it’s certainly got easier.

As a result of all that, I’m hitting figures I’ve never hit before in training. I don’t spend as much time inside as I used to, so the numbers are important. I’m quicker than I have ever been and I’m spending more hours kicking on the training field. Having a clear conscience is massive in that.

When you’re in a rut, it wears you down and you take it easy on yourself. You do a couple less reps in the gym, you don’t push yourself in the runs. I couldn’t wait to get home, but thankfully it’s not like that with the new-found freedom I have. Geezer played a big part in supporting me through that and I now know what he expects of me. I feel I’m maturing a little bit later than most.

Oisin: What is great about the GAA?

Stefan: The most satisfactory aspect for me is representing my family, my club and the wider Lurgan community, where I have a lot of support. Next it would be the bonds I have made along the way. I’ve known a few boys a lot longer than since joining the minor or senior panel. For example, me and Rory Grugan's friendship dates back to our U14 Milk Cup days in 04-05. Finally, it’s the actual platform the GAA gives me to compete with the best footballers in the country, and with a bit of luck there will be plenty more tests ahead in 2020.

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Rory Grugan

Rory Grugan

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Rory Grugan

 

Oisin: With that in mind, how do Armagh take the next step to be one of the top teams in Ireland?

Stefan: Belief is the key thing for us. If we can conquer that, then we can take the next step.

Oisin: What needs to change in the GAA?

Stefan: The way club footballers are treated. I think when the season resumes, club football should be given priority and they should be given a few rounds of football straight away. Club players get very little out of the game, so this might be a good chance for the GAA to put them first for a change.

Belfast Telegraph