Meticulous McStay carefully planning for victory - but not at any price
“It is nonsense of the highest order. Did Mayo lose to Meath [in the 1996 All Ireland final] by a point because they were too clean? Players like TJ Kilgallon and Liam- they were clean, yes. But they were ferociously competitive. That tag is too comfortable. When Mayo win it, they will become something else. Look, I remember going to Leinster finals when Meath were horsed out of it. And then they became the hardest team ever. Donegal were the party team. Now they are the most dedicated ever.
“I was at that Armagh match when Donegal were hammered a few years ago and let me tell you: they were Duffy’s Circus. They were like a rabble. They were all over the shop. And I think Jim McGuinness was at that match, actually. So could they make that turnaround if that is all they were? Now, Jim is a special fella. But my point is when you are not successful; it is easy to have a label.”
Montrose make-up room
McStay acknowledges that in the summer, The Sunday Game has a major influence: it sets the agenda. He got into broadcasting accidentally: he was in the officer’s mess one day talking about football and Christy Rock told him straight out that he never shut up about football, that he should get himself on with them RTÉ fellas.
It was almost like a dare. And McStay knew Michael Lyster as their fathers had served in the barracks in Killererin. So he wrote to him. The letter reached Bill Lawlor, who was largely responsible for The Sunday Game concept. Lawlor phoned him. “Come down ’til we have a look at you,” he said. McStay’s first game was in Westmeath, co-commentating with Jimmy Magee. That was 15 years ago: he is a veteran of the Montrose make-up room now.
Live commentary remains his first passion. He has coined a few memorable phrases – the slightly hoarse yell of “He has it, he has it” for Kevin Cassidy’s translatlantic point in the dusk against Kildare in Croke Park and his pithy opening words during a heavy, edgy game between Armagh and Tyrone: “Welcome to the Pleasuredome.”
Sometimes he gets grief for his views. “Mainly from Kerry fellas. I have some great Kerry friends but they don’t like criticism of their team down there. It doesn’t sit well.”
He rejects the theory that The Sunday Game goes soft on the glamour teams when it comes to highlighting contentious issues. “I would defend them to the hilt . . . they have impeccable standards there.”
Liam McHale waltzes in, full of high humour. Kevin has the video ready, the note-pad ready. He is prepared. These are busy days. In his working life, McStay is Lieutenant Colonel, Adjutant responsible for Personnel of the 4th Western Brigade, which is being disestablished at the end of the month due to cutbacks. The emotional toll of reintegrating people is considerable. Football is an escape. And as always, he will do his homework. Liam gets amused when he has the jitters. Both families are going for a break in December. One day McStay remarked that it would be great if they were Connacht champions then.
“And I am sure Liam believes we will be. But he said: ‘Kevin, I have given this everything I can give. So whatever happens happens . . . my conscience is clear.
“And if our players have that, we will win it because we will have given it everything.’ And it was a great attitude. You know, isn’t that all anyone can do?”
That – and walk away afterwards with your name still good.