Saturday 24 March 2018

No return to land of youth for Oisin

THE new decade is just over two weeks old, but already Armagh legend Oisin McConville feels a pang of pain about the summer.

McConville (34) is engaged in hard pre-season training with his club, the famed Crossmaglen Rangers.

He's a long time on the road and high football mileage doesn't make it any easier on the oul' body.

Aching muscles and strenuous exertion aren't a problem -- in fact, he says: "In a weird kind of way, I'm enjoying the pain."

Emotionally, though, he knows there is a toll to be paid in a different setting.

McConville can even pinpoint the date: Sunday, May 16, 2010.

On that day, the Armagh footballers will open their Championship campaign away to Derry and the former All-Ireland winner will be a spectator.

It could have been different: McConville had a scenario put to him by new Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke whereby he could have been part of the squad for that match.

All he had to do was agree to come out of retirement and align himself with the cause for one last hurrah.

Temptation reared its head. The heart of the 20-year-old footballing inner self that happens to reside in a 34-year-old body leaped in enthusiastic affirmation of intent.


That was before Christmas. Post-festive fare, with the Crossmaglen management running the guts out the club's players, made reality bite hard.

"I had a chat with Paddy, and the opportunity to be part of the Armagh set up was there, but now I've made a decision, a concrete decision, that I'm not going back," said McConville.

"I would love to go back and in an ideal world I would do that, but I'm 34 years of age; I'm in training with the club and finding it quite tough.

"County football is two levels up from that and I think it would be a backward step for me, and backward for the county if I came back.

"I know I'll miss county football. I'm happy with what I have achieved, but it definitely hurts to be out of the scene.

"I talk to (Kieran) McGeeney and boys that have retired and we all agree that you don't miss the training -- but when it comes to championship and the team is running out on the pitch, that's when you really feel it."

Weather permitting, McConville will get a chance to examine the early fruits of O'Rourke's stewardship of Armagh when the Orchard County play University of Ulster, Jordanstown at Crossmaglen tonight in the McKenna Cup.

This is a big year for Armagh and for O'Rourke, who captained Down to the All-Ireland in 1991.

GAA politics and conflict surrounding Peter McDonnell's departure last July meant that O'Rourke emerged as a surprise choice to lead Armagh, with criticism of an 'outside' manager being delivered from some quarters.

For the players, the task is more straightforward. A new broom sweeps clean, there is a chance to revive Armagh's fortunes, and it's all systems go.

The only problem has been the weather and the consequent postponement of last week's scheduled opening series of McKenna Cup games.

"From us having so many players on the panel, the reports back are that the training is going well; they're happy in the camp and the players are enjoying it," said McConville.

"Mike McGurn is one of the top trainers in the country and the guys are enthusiastic about the year ahead.

"The whole Armagh set-up is very professional and Paddy is clearly putting his stamp on it.

"The set-up is geared towards fitness and it will be interesting to see how the players react. It all seems very good, but I'll hold off on any judgement until we see the style of play they're going to use and how the results go when they get playing matches."

Is O'Rourke under pressure to deliver an Ulster title or even more in his first year, or will supporters be patient?

McConville has an interesting view on that issue.

"I would agree that a manager can have an impact over a number of years and there are some who have spent a long time with teams and been successful," he said.

"But I would argue that the most impact a manager can have is in his first year. That's when players are keenest and they're ready to believe everything the manager says.

"Our first year with Joe Kernan was when he had the maximum impact with us and we won the All-Ireland in 2002.

"Hopefully, in the months ahead, Paddy will be able to have the influence he wants on the team."

Meanwhile, the big forward turns his attention to a new challenge facing Crossmaglen, for so long the kingpins of Armagh football.

"Yes, it's a different situation with the club now," he said.

"We won 13 championships (in a row), but because we didn't win last year's, we were free for about three months from September.

"This year we have a chance to get a good pre-season and I would say for us it's a year in which we'll probably be talking about a completely different team.

"We probably won't have the physicality which we once had in abundance, but if you are asking me if we have the players to be competitive, I would say 'yes, if we apply ourselves'.

"The big aim in Cross is to get the Armagh championship back. That's a good goal for us to have at the start of the season."

Looking further ahead, McConville is not going to find it easy to end his love affair with football, and management is on the horizon.

"Management? Yes, I think that would be for me down the line. I know it's a hard job, but, hopefully, at some stage there will be a team that will want me to manage them," he said.

Irish Independent

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