Oisin – A Living Legend

March 4, 2013

For me and my fellow Claremen the summer of ’95 is a never to be forgotten experience. Our Messiah, Ger Loughnane led us to the Promised Land by returning Liam McCarthy home to the banner county after an absence of 81 years.

Travelling from my adopted home, Crossmaglen I was accompanied by my son Colin and a Crossmaglen Rangers quartet that consisted of a former player and staunch supporter Peter, Thomas who would be a vital team backroom member, and committee member to this day, and a pair of young players Michael and Oisin.

As the Clare shout grew longer and louder as the summer progressed into autumn, like a stuck needle in an old vinyl record, the topic of conversation for both parts of our journey never varied –What will Crossmaglen Rangers have to do to win a senior championship? It has been 10 years since the championship has been in Cross.

To compound their fragile state, the unthinkable happened that year which made them available to journey with me as they were knocked out of the championship by neighbours, Mullaghbawn. Needless to say they were at their wits end as their rivals went on to win their second County title with a 0-10 to 1-5 defeat of Armagh Harps. The storm clouds which, for totally different reasons other than football and not of the clubs making, were never far away, were beginning to carry a worrying look as Cross had not contested a County final since their 3-8 to 0-11 defeat of Armagh City side Pearse Og. Manager Joe Kernan was coming under pressure to deliver.

With the McCarthy cup doing the rounds of the towns and villages of Clare our journeying continued. Parochial rivalry has been the mainstay of the GAA and the reason for its continued success for so long. But in true sporting fashion we followed the fortunes of our neighbours Mullaghbawn who reached the Ulster club final. As we sat in Clones watching the two time champions of Armagh capture the Ulster title by beating Baileboro of Cavan the applause from my colleagues was very genuine and appreciative of their achievement, even-though, deep down, they were green with envy and jealous as hell. After all, County man since 1994 Oisin was as competitive as hell with success etched in his DNA.

The following year the new Ulster champions would lock horns with the record Armagh winners, Crossmaglen, in Silverbridge. Catch and kick traditionalists, Cross had changed their style and personnel as Big Joe shed the old guard and went with a youthful policy. That gamble looked as if it was doomed to failure as his team struggled to a very unconvincing 0-9 to 2-2 win over Sarsfields on June 9. Over a month later on July 14 champions Mullaghbawn were dethroned 0-15 to 1-7. On Sept 8 my travelling companions realised their dream – A county title- following an emphatic 3-12 to 1-4 victory over Clan Na Gael.

Mullaghbawn were the catalyst that awoke the Green Giant of envy in Crossmaglen which led them to become the modern day Hulk of club football as they decimated record after record in a hitherto unprecedented run of success. Rangers had found their own Messiah in Big Joe who had a distinguished club and county career of his own and delivered the goods big time, first for his beloved club and then the County. In both cases Joe knew just how valuable, vital and inspirational his chief marksman was to the cause.

From that June 9 championship opener in 1996 Oisin McConville went on to play in and score in 103 consecutive club championship matches that took us right up to 2008.  Oisin led by example as his scoring exploits brought home titles time and time again for both club and County.

Over his 20 year reign which sees him easily recognised as the best club football ever, all superlatives, clichés and compliments have been exhausted in covering his exploits on the football field. As a leading newspaper columnist himself he knows what it takes to fill column space. It is all the more difficult when the stuff is repetitive especially when it comes to him, as he was the major player so long for his team. How many times over the years have teams said ‘only for Oisin we would have won’?

Before coming to Crossmaglen the only Oisin I knew was the one that existed in Irish Mythology and was associated with the land of Tir Na nOg. For me to have been in the company and have had the pleasure of writing about a true living legend has been something very special. None of us could have ever imagined that the desire for just a championship victory 18 years ago would have led to National records being broken.

While he may have gone out on a losing note it is ironically in the wake of this defeat that he probably got the most acclaim from his beloved Crossmaglen Rangers followers and admirers country wide as everyone was unison in the opinion “Had Oisin been there for the last 10 minutes Cross would have beat St Brigid’s”

A man with such passion for football will not be forever lost to the game. For now, his wife Darina and son Ryan will be just glad to have those footballing hours for themselves. Note I did not use the word “lost” when it came to footballing hours as the attached list of awards, void of all the Man of the Match, top scorer awards given brings the curtain down on a glittering playing career of a sprightly 37-year-old.

Playing career

Oisin made his Armagh Senior debut in the Dr. McKenna Cup final at Clones on 25 September 1994.

He played in the half-forward line for Armagh in their 2002 All-Ireland winning year. In the 2002 All-Ireland Final against Kerry, he overcame the setback of having his first half penalty saved, to step up and score the vital second half goal that was instrumental in Armagh winning a tight contest. As well as his All-Ireland Senior medal, McConville holds two All-Star awards (2000 and 2002), seven Ulster Senior Championship medals (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008) and a National League Winners medal (2005). He also holds the record for the highest individual score in an Ulster Final, when he notched 2-07 against Down in the 1999 Ulster Final. He has also won Under 12, Under 14, Under 16, Minor League and Championship, and two U-21 Championships. During his schooldays at Abbey CBS, Newry he won D’Alton, Corn na nÓg, and Rannafast Cups, and was a MacRory Cup runner up whilst at Saint Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh.

He won six All-Ireland Club titles with Crossmaglen in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2011 and 2012, and was top scorer in four of those years.

Oisin retired from inter-county football after the 2008 season.

Oisin is part of the Crossmaglen team that has won 13 Armagh Senior Football Championships in a row between 1996 and 2008. This equals the national record for consecutive county football championships set by Ballina Stephenites of Mayo between 1904 and 1916. He has also won the Ulster Senior Club Football Championship seven times (1996, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012) and the All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship six times (1997, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2011 and 2012) with the club.