Belfast Telegraph

GAA legend Oisin McConville: My son had the perfect cure for my All-Ireland football semi-final hangover

By Oisin McConville

Sport can bring you to an ultimate high but it also has a penchant for despatching you to a devastating low.

And, unfortunately, it’s the latter experience which I suffered when Crossmaglen Rangers, the club I have devoted my life to and which has taken me to many glorious days in the past, failed to reach the All-Ireland club final this year.

Last Saturday’s gut-wrenching semi-final defeat to Castlebar Mitchels will remain a raw, unpalatable memory for some time.

Such a defeat not only terminates a team’s interest in a competition but it actually can change your outlook on life — at least in the short term.

To surrender by a one-point margin in the dying embers of a major match, to know that you have contributed in some measure to your own downfall and to be facing a possible rap for unruly scenes that marked the climax of the contest, all combine to leave a dull, empty feeling of utter desolation.

If the truth be told, we were hopeful that we would beat Castlebar and make it into the All-Ireland club final — somewhere we have been on numerous occasions in the past and acquitted ourselves with distinction when we got there.

This time, it was different. The heartache of missed chances, wrong options, perhaps questionable managerial decisions on the line and that unseemly fracas, will live with us for a spell, that’s for sure.

All such defeats bring their own repercussions — the morale of the side is questioned, strategy is debated and, it goes without saying, we are all experts in hindsight.

Yet while aspects of our team’s technical shortcomings on the day were exposed, I don’t think anyone could question the effort that the players put in.

They never stopped trying, they kept going right to the end and, as the old saying goes, they died with their boots on.

One sharp lesson that we have been forced to absorb is that mistakes which might go unpunished when a team wins a county championship title or indeed a provincial honour will extract their own penalty at the higher level.

We found this out to our cost — we may have had a generous ration of experience in our side but Castlebar, too, had a number of players who have been round a few corners in their time and they certainly displayed their guile and craft to good effect, particularly at crucial stages of the match.

 There is no doubt that it was a tough, intense encounter marred by over-physical tackling at times and it was not altogether surprising that it tended to explode in the closing stages.

Obviously, we must now brace ourselves for a possible sanction for our part in this and that certainly does nothing to lessen the pain of defeat.

We have always prided ourselves on our footballing skills but in Castlebar we met a side who matched us in this department and then had the necessary cuteness and fitness to clinically close out the game.

From being potential All-Ireland club champions, we have now been designated as also-rans in the race to the title — that’s the long and the short of it.

I have never been one to do excuses — I prefer to face reality as I have always done in the various strands of my life.

And it was perhaps the strand that is dearest to me that helped to put our sickening defeat into some sort of perspective.

On Sunday morning — of all mornings — my three-year-old son Ryan (below) bounced into our bedroom at 7.30am and asked if I would like to go out and play football with him in the garden!

I honestly did not know whether to laugh or cry. I just lay there mulling over the events of the previous evening until I eventually hauled myself out from between the sheets and bowed to his entreaties to play football.

And in the crisp morning air, the pain occasioned by the loss to Castlebar gradually began to subside.

There is more to life, I thought. To hear Ryan laugh as he tumbled over the ball and chased it incessantly convinced me that football is really only a game.

And the thought, too, that there might be better days ahead convinces me that the glass is half-full rather than half-empty.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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