McConville makes a strong case for Cross'
THE CONVERSATION about repetitive success in sport does, eventually, bore. There goes the All Blacks or the Kilkenny hurlers, winning again. Average folk simply can’t relate, so they switch off. Same goes for a certain south Armagh football village. Crossmaglen Rangers captured their 16th county title in 17 years last Sunday.
Oisín McConville has been sneaking onto ball and punishing defenders ever since they ended a 10-year drought way back in 1996. Aged 36 now, the only goal scorer in the 2002 All-Ireland final provides a fascinating insight into winning with his attitude to losing.
For all the medals garnered over three decades, McConville’s brightest memory seems to be what happened in 2009. Pearse Óg’s disruption of the most fluent of hot streaks can be compared to those unruly bikers walking into Sonny’s bar in A Bronx Tale.
“We were going to have to lose at some stage in Armagh in order to try and get another run going,” said McConville as the AIB club championship was launched last Monday. “To be honest, they probably did us a favour as much as it was very, very difficult to take. That’s probably the reason why we went on and won two All-Irelands [2011 and ’12] and that’s why we won another Armagh championship yesterday [beating Pearse Óg 3-9 to 0-11] because it did hurt and we wouldn’t disguise that fact.
“That year we weren’t involved in the club championship in October, November, December and that really hurt. The boys didn’t know what to do with themselves. We got together in January and we promised that that would never happen again. We’ve been unbeaten since that. I think that’s 34 months. For us to do that is a serious achievement regardless of what we’ve done in the past.
“This is a team that’s sort of surviving on its own merits now.”
Constant achievement can only be appreciated by attending the after-show party, as McConville explained. “It was a brilliant win. We’ve been under a bit of pressure all year. We haven’t been playing well. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had a few boys defecting through emigration and things like that so it is becoming harder. It’s becoming tougher when you’re on the road three years.
“When the game was in the melting pot, all our young boys and everybody responded and did their stuff, so from that point of view we’d be over the moon. People say about 16 in 17 years but the thing is if you go to Cross’ last night, it was like it was our first time. That’s how special it is.”
Paul Grimley is the new Armagh manager. Joe Kernan’s assistant in 2002, Grimley is a Pearse Óg man but would know the value of doing what Kernan did back in the late ’90s; channelling the Cross’ way into the Armagh way. “I’ll be very, very surprised if there are not five players at least that are good enough to play with Armagh.”
McConville mentions Paul Herity as a possible return as goalkeeper, also adding Paul McKeon, David McKenna, Johnny Hanratty, Aaron Cunningham and Tony Kernan to a list of established Rangers players like Aaron Kernan and Jamie Clarke that should be on the 2013 Armagh panel.
The argument against their selection by former manager Paddy O’Rourke was that he didn’t have enough time with them due to club commitments up to March 17th is something McConville refutes. “In fairness, it hasn’t helped and it didn’t make life easy for Paddy O’Rourke but I just don’t think his argument held any water in that he said he hadn’t seen enough of them.
“If he had to go to club championship matches all year he would have seen enough of them and for me, I don’t believe in the fact that Armagh county football is not doing well because Cross’ are doing well. I don’t believe in that at all. Cross’ were going well in 2002, 2003, 2004 when Armagh were challenging for honours every year.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm about Armagh football this past couple of years and there was a lot of players asked to play football for Armagh who didn’t want to play. I don’t know why that was but Paul Grimley will change that I think.
“He’ll entice players back. He’ll get a bit of enthusiasm going about Armagh football and I think if we can get that, get our best players playing, I believe that we are good enough. I watched all the quarter-finals up here this year and I believe we have as good players as any of the teams. If we get the system right and get players moving in the right direction, everybody together, we would have a chance.”
He is talking about winning an All-Ireland, not a club All-Ireland but Sam Maguire. “I’d just be of the opinion that, over this last couple of years, for us to only have two [Crossmaglen] players playing against Tyrone and two players playing against Roscommon is complete madness, to me, when you consider the quality that the boys have shown all year.
“To be honest, it was actually quite hurtful. There were a lot of players in our panel that were quite hurt by that. Whenever boys do come back and play for Cross’ it gives them that extra spurt to try and prove: ‘I’m good enough to play for Armagh’.”
The Tipperary county board last night announced that new hurling manager Eamon O’Shea has appointed Michael Ryan of Upperchurch-Drombane as his assistant manager. Both were selectors for Tipperary’s 2010 All-Ireland title under Liam Sheedy. Paudie O’Neill of the Ballyboden St Enda’s club has been appointed as team coach.