Monday 20 November 2017

Oisin: At peace with his past, content with his present, hopeful for his future

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Oisin McConville surveys the landscape around him and declares himself to be in the best place he has ever been before.

After the turmoil of a gambling addiction that led to him racking up debts in excess of £100,000, he has turned his life around and come out on the other side with remarkable clarity of thinking and high self-esteem.

On all fronts he feels his life is moving along with perfect harmony. Four weeks ago he got married to Darina Markey and moved into a new house in a small village just outside Crossmaglen.

Work takes him to Newry on weekdays, and sometimes Belfast, where he is a counsellor in one of Sister Consilio's nationwide addiction clinics. There he provides service and help to those in need from across the province, drawing on his own experiences.

It's a far cry from the day he rustled up the last £8 in his car he could find in his car, having lost £10,000, and then drove home with the diesel light on his dashboard flickering menacingly.

McConville can talk frankly about the life he once endured as an addict. He can see it from a different perspective now, the perspective of a counsellor. A two-year course in Athy earned him a diploma that has led to what he does now.

The legacy of his admission to a serious gambling addiction three years ago is the contact many still make with him, and members of his family, seeking advice and direction.

He has become a beacon of hope for relatives of those in a similar place to where he once was himself.

constant

The constant in his life, though, has always been football.

Tomorrow in Navan he faces into his eighth All-Ireland club semi-final. At 35 he can't recall a time when he has enjoyed playing the game as much.

"I am definitely in a great place, my head is in a great place and that really helps when you turn up for training on a Tuesday and Thursday night and you go out and play a football game at the weekend," he says.

"Really and truly, and I can't believe that I am saying this, I actually love going out on wet and windy nights, turning up to go training, because you don't have anything else in your head and you are devoting those two hours to the training.

"You go back then and you have your family life, you have your work and whatever else you have going on in your life. I am just content -- I suppose that would be the best word."

In Newry, there is a great sense of fulfilment each day.

"It is rewarding work. It can be tough at times. There is a lot of stuff in it and if you carry that home with you, it can be a bit of a burden," he says.

"But you have to manage these things and luckily enough I have been given the tools to manage these things, like supervision.

"I am certainly enjoying it. It is not something you could probably do Monday to Friday, nine to five because it is heavy stuff."

Back in the footballing world, he remains a potent force, his goal breaking the deadlock in the Ulster club final in December and earning him a record fifth Ulster Club Footballer of the Year award.

Crossmaglen's regeneration has been all about restoring fundamentals. The trappings of so much success had them complacent, half-measured even in their approach.

When Pearse Og brought the curtains down on their 13-year unbeaten sequence in Armagh in 2009, there was initial devastation at having to let go, which subsided with a realisation that they would have to get back to basics if they wanted to recover.

"It was very difficult to leave the house for a week or so because it was a strange feeling. You felt as if you left everyone down," says McConville.

"As much as people you would meet on the street would say, 'you had a great run,' depending on your response at that time, you could say, 'you're right, we did have a great run.'

"And that, for me, would have been a defeatist attitude. We really did not respond to that, but I just knew that we needed to go back and win another one."

So on January 2 last year, the climb back to the top began.

Tony McEntee, the club's most versatile asset, quit playing and assumed management in a joint role with Gareth O'Neill, the former Louth footballer who is McConville's brother-in-law. In McConville's words, they "took no s**t."

"We thought that we could waltz through Armagh and then ramp it up when we got into Ulster but that Pearse Og defeat was the ultimate kick in the arse. After it, something had to give," says McConville

"Tony and Gareth were a breath of fresh air. We went back to basics, we trained harder than I have ever trained before in my life with club or county.

"We trained and we trained and we trained, no matter what the weather was like, or anything else, we trained through it. We ran basically for the first couple of months."

Gosford Forest Park near Market Hill was their regular terrain for eight-mile runs that separated those that wanted it and those that didn't.

"There were a few boys there, and they were not sure if they wanted to be there or not. I suppose the tough training got rid of the people who did not really want to do it.

"It was not good enough to be 'half-arsed' about it any more. Every other club in the county, in the country, is working hard and we had sort of lost that and that was what had got us to where we were. We have been lucky enough that we have been able to get that back."

They arrive in another semi-final a different Crossmaglen team than the ones we have become accustomed to over the last 15 years , sweeping all before them with their emphasis on physical power.

"Cross teams down through the years would have ground teams down, we wore teams down with our physicality," says McConville.

"We don't have that physicality any more. We still get in and around teams, but we don't have those big men that we had when we won the All-Ireland in 1997. We had only one player under six foot in that team."

It's men like James Morgan, the captain Paul McKeon and the ultra-talented Jamie Clarke that they have turned to -- Clarke a will-o'-the-wisp figure who McConville labels "special".

McConville appreciates that the candle is almost burned out for him in playing terms but already he is looking to putting back in some of what he has taken from the game.

He's involved with the Cross minor team this year and is ready to earn his stripes at the club that has given him so much.

But for now, there is the business of adding to an already glorious record as the most decorated club footballer of this or perhaps any other era.

And he will do so with contentment and peace of mind.

Irish Independent

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