LiveGaelic.com » Live Gaelic Legends – Oisin Mc Conville

11 Jul

Live Gaelic Legends – Oisin Mc Conville

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Posted by Robert Cribbin in LiveGaelic Legends | Jul 2014

In this weeks Live Gaelic Legends interview, we spoke witho former Armagh and Crossmaglen star Oisin Mc Conville. The two time All Star gave a lot of insight in a very informative interview.

From his struggles with gambling and the troubles in Northern Ireland to his phenomenal success with his club and of course winning the Sam Maguire cup, one of the greatest forwards of his generation reveals all.

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Lets go back to when you supported Armagh as a child, What are your memories?

“I used to go all the games when I was a kid and if I’m being honest it was mostly disappointing as regarding results. As a child though going to Clones to see Armagh was heaven on earth ( We didn’t get to Croke Park in those days) seeing hero’s of mine. Although success was scarce back in those days I still always wanted to play for Armagh  and that never changed.”

“Going to games as a child would only make you hungrier to achieve those dreams. I also had an uncle to play for the county so some people might say it was always written in the stars.  Thankfully I was to go on to be one of the lucky ones.”

Before we continue to talk football your career started during the troubles, can you tell us any issues you had?

“Yeah back then being a Catholic playing GAA up north wasn’t a very safe thing really. First of all I think the worst had passed when I started playing but you still had to  be very careful. You would regularly get stopped on the way to training or matches and it wasn’t a nice thing at all.”

“Without doubt the worst of it was in Crossmaglen though as I’m sure everyone knows at this stage there was a British army base right beside the club and it would make you feel very uncomfortable. there would be many checkpoints and helicopters coming and going  and it just made things very difficult. Thankfully times have changed for the better now.”

Lastly on this topic did you ever think it was all too much for you?

“Thats a very good question and the answer is yes every day. You kept thinking to yourself why me and why Crossmaglen? It is what the town became known for and it was not nice. We all knew that was the way it had to be at the time and we just had to go with it  but it definitely wasn’t easy no.”

“There were times where you would think to yourself is it all worth it really? Why am I putting myself through all this? I do think though it made us tighter as a group with the club and this tight unity definitely was a part in our success over the years. It was almost like that was the making of the team.”

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Now onto football and onto Crossmaglen did you expect to be so successful as a club?

“You must be joking( with a laugh). In Armagh at the time there is no way you could expect to be successful as there was so many good clubs in the county. As I said together everyone bonded together so well at the club and thankfully that has continued over the years and it is definitely contributor to our success.  “

“Getting our underage right also helped as that is the base for any club and it certainly was for us . We were also blessed to have a great management team with us all the time and talented players coming through but the hard work we have put in over the years is how we got in that position. It was just a privilege to play with some of those players.”

In most counties winning back to back county  titles is near on impossible but you won 13 in a row , Talk to me about that?

“Where do I even start, I was one of the lucky six to be part of all of those teams.People talk about our hunger but that was easy when there was new players coming in every year. There was always fresh faces there every January and this was another measure of our success. On the other hand though you do have to pinch yourself sometimes to see is this really happening.”

“When you think back on it its just crazy really and it wasn’t because we had no competition. Some of the matches we had in Armagh were tougher than in Ulster or the All Ireland series and these games  just pushed us onto better things. We wanted to represent Armagh in the best way possible.”

Six All Ireland titles with Cross, is there anyone in particular that stands out?

“Well its like the saying of who your favourite child is. To win a Celtic Cross is special at any grade and to do it with your club even more so. They always say the first is the best because its your first one and that is spot on but for me they are all fantastic. I wouldn’t swap any of them for the world.”

“I would say though that 2007 was my proudest win as I was captain of the team and we beat Dr. Crokes after a replay. Its all a little different when you are captain and I think there is more pressure on you as a result because you are expected to perform well in every game. So 2007 is definitely up there but they all mean a lot to me and I cherish them a lot more now that I’m retired.”

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Now Oisin onto the issue of gambling can you tell me how it all started?

“It all started where I would be bored and I needed something to do and I know that may be hard to understand but that’s the way it was. I would just go down to the local bookies for a few hours and just bet on anything really. What started at tens would soon turn into hundreds and thousands.  I would quickly run myself heavily into debt. It would all happen so quickly and I’m so ashamed now thinking back on it.”

“One thing in my favor was there were none of these betting  apps at the time or I would have been in the deep. The football pitch was my escape route from all of this and it didn’t affect my game whatsoever and nobody knew this was happening to me. I needed help and I’m just so relieved I managed to find it in time. If it wasn’t for the counselling only god knows where I would be now. I’m delighted to say I’m in a much better place now.”

You wrote a book and went into great detail about your gambling, why did you decide to do this?

“I wanted to show people what could happen to you if you get drawn in too much and I wanted to try and help anyone who might need it.  I had an illness and I managed to escape from it and that was a gods send so I just wanted to point out to people what could happen to you.”

“I thought long and hard about what to put in the book but in the end I decided to reveal everything as people need to know what happened to me and to be aware of these issues. I needed to show that it can happen to everyone and that nobody was immune from these things happening even inter county footballers.”

There have been a few high profile cases in depression and gambling among GAA players in recent months, can the GPA help these people?

“Thankfully there is now a counselling service in the GPA so any players that need help can get it. I would only have loved for that service to be available to me.  So at least if people are having problems they have somewhere to go and they don’t need to have the worry of being ashamed or anything like it.”

“A lot of people say that is a sign of weakness but that’s absolute rubbish because they need whatever help they can get. They cant fight it on their own behalf so anyone that can help them its a massive bonus.”

 

 

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Now onto Armagh, Before 2002 you won two Ulster titles did you feel you were getting closer to that elusive All Ireland title?

“Our belief was growing by the day after those wins. The win in 1999 was huge for us as it was our first Ulster title in a number of years and there was huge elation in the county.For me personally it was a great day scoring 2-7  and for the fans it was extra special as it was Down we beat.”

“The following year we retained our title and everyone knew we had to make the extra step then as a result. The All Ireland semi final in 2000 still stands as the one that got away. We had Kerry beaten so many times but just couldn’t finish the job. It was at that time we knew we were good enough to win Sam and we knew we had the team to do it.”

In 2002 another Ulster title followed and you qualified for the All Ireland final you must have felt your time had come?

“You are never guaranteed anything in sport so no we didn’t. As a team we knew we could do it but that we had to perform. The fact that Ulster teams had such a bad record up in Croke Park at that time was also a major worry but we wanted to break down that wall for the Ulster teams.”

“We also had never beaten Kerry there so that was another stumbling block and the fact that we had never won the All Ireland were more reasons why it wasn’t a given but I can assure you there has never been a more driven team than that Armagh team on that day. We knew leaving that dressing room we weren’t losing and thankfully that was proved right.”

What every kid dreams of is to score a goal in an All Ireland final and that is exactly what you did. Tell me a bit about it?

“I felt I had to prove a point really. I thought I let the team down when I missed a penalty in the first half so I knew I had to make it right. To tell you the truth everything else is just a blur. After scoring that goal I knew that was it, we weren’t going to be denied then. We had so many leaders on the field that they just wouldn’t let that happen.”

“When Kieran Mc Geeney tells you to do something you do not question him you just do it. He was one of those people you listen to  and there was so many of them on the team. It was  what made us such a special team as we had a great bond trying to create history.”

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Tell me your emotions when the whistle went and Armagh had won their first All Ireland title in their history?

“The first thing is you didn’t have any time to feel any emotion as you were mobbed by our great supporters. It felt as if all of county Armagh had descended on Croke Park for the day. It was fantastic. When I finally reached the top of the Hogan Stand all you could see was a sea of orange on the field. It was one of those images that you will never forget until you die. Then Kieran lifted the Sam Maguire cup and it hits you that you have done it.”

“Joy, relief, happiness and delight were all the emotions going through my head. I’d be lying if I said a tear wasn’t shed that day. Its what you dream of doing as a child and we were the first group of Armagh players to achieve it. It really was the stuff of dreams. Joe Kernan was the man to led us to that promise land just like he did with Crossmaglen.”

Finally it has been said that Armagh should have won more than One All Ireland, Is that a fair point?

“Yeah I would agree with that. As players we all feel we should have won more. 2003 against Tyrone was the one that got away and even at that if it wasn’t for that sensational block by Conor Gormley we would have won that day. These things happen but you cant be but jealous of a team who has gone onto win three or four more All Ireland’s while we still only have one and especially seen as they are your rivals but that’s sport and besides I’ve enough club All Ireland medals anyway (he says with a grin).”

 “The reality is that we probably did underachieve in the end but there are plenty of people who would have bit your hand off to have the chance to be in our position so I’m not going to complain now. I had some brilliant days with club and county and I’m just so grateful to the people that helped me on the way.”

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