Monday 19 August 2019

'Ulster has been nothing short of phenomenal' - McConville says provincial championships have 'come out fighting'

GAA president John Horan (centre) with former RTÉ commentator Michéal O Muircheartaigh and Oisin McConville at the opening of the new exhibition in the GAA Museum ‘Tuning In – From Wireless to WiFi’ in Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan (centre) with former RTÉ commentator Michéal O Muircheartaigh and Oisin McConville at the opening of the new exhibition in the GAA Museum ‘Tuning In – From Wireless to WiFi’ in Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Oisín McConville is, by his own admission, one of the biggest critics of the provincial championship structure but acknowledges they have "come out fighting" after a resurgence in Ulster and Connacht in recent weeks.

The dominance of Kerry and Dublin still hangs over Munster and Leinster but, as a new fixtures calendar review task force get together with an 'open cheque book', McConville sees life in the system if the trend continues.

Roscommon's wins over Mayo and Galway to claim a second provincial title in three years and all of the Ulster Championship to date have given it a shot in the arm, he feels.

"They have been under pressure and I would have been one of those applying the pressure and seeing them as a waste of time in the past few years," he said.

"This year the Ulster Championship has been nothing short of phenomenal. I've really, really enjoyed it - different styles of games, different styles of football, a lot more tactical awareness, tactical nuance that we haven't seen in Ulster.

"It's not just people getting behind the ball, so that's improved. The provincial championships, having been on the ropes big-time, have come out fighting in the last three or four weeks. Sunday (in Connacht) was a good example but overall so has the Ulster Championship."

McConville expects Donegal to be "put to the pin of their collar" this year by a resurgent Cavan who have, in the former Armagh All-Ireland winner's estimation, "opened up to play" under manager Mickey Graham this year.

"I think they have changed dramatically in the way that they play. I remember Mattie McGleenan (previous manager), when he came in he said they were going to play open and attractive football and that lasted about 40 minutes in the first league game before he reverted back to containing teams," he recalled.

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Pivotal to their transformation is Dara McVeety who, McConville says, is a much-undervalued player.

"It's just nice to see a team like Cavan who have been a lot more defensive in the last couple of years to open up and play. That's been the one criticism that you would find with Cavan, that they won four Ulster U-21 titles in a row and the one criticism that continues to be thrown at them is that they didn't find one dynamic and good forward. But Dara McVeety is different gravy.

"When I first saw him playing he was the player back in defence carrying the ball out and shipped it on to someone else.

"But now he's a real target man, he's a score-getter. His movement is unbelievable.

"The two best players for movement I've seen this year in the full-forward line are (Cathal) McShane for Tyrone and McVeety."

Ultimately, McConville expects Donegal to retain their Ulster title and confirm their status as Dublin's biggest challengers.

"I think things have changed in that the one team you were looking to was Tyrone, to follow up and improve on last year. On the evidence of what we saw against Donegal, that didn't happen. I think Donegal leapfrogged them and they look like the team who potentially would trouble Dublin.

"The last day they were getting players back into defence, but the transition was unbelievable, it was electric.

"A lot of people haven't mentioned Hugh McFadden's influence, but the work that he is doing, getting back into defence, making it difficult for the opposition. And how quick McHugh and these boys can make the transition."

McConville senses that Stephen Rochford has had a "positive influence" on Donegal since his arrival late last year.

"I am just interested in his role, because it was him that was laying out the cones, it was him that was doing the warm-up, he was on the pitch 15 minutes before Donegal came on the pitch, laying out cones and doing that there, taking up as much of the field as he could.

"And that was probably a statement. When Donegal came out on the field, they looked bigger, they looked stronger, they looked more mobile. And that's the way it turned out in the game."

He's concerned about the growing expectation around his own county Armagh playing Monaghan in this weekend's qualifiers and sees potential for a shock in Belfast where Kildare play Antrim.

Oisín McConville was speaking at the launch of 'Tuning In - From Wireless to WiFi,' a new exhibition at the GAA Museum, charting the history of Gaelic games being broadcast on national radio and television

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