At the start of lockdown throughout the country, Sunday Life Sport introduced a new series with Armagh All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.
Today is Oisin's 11th and final guest in the series. Oisin wanted to get a sense of what it's like to be an Irish GAA star in America, so he caught up with Niall Madine. Niall takes the subway to work every day in New York, where he now lives, but in another life he would be in Saval getting ready for club championship action and the Ulster Championship with Paddy Tally's Down side.
Singled out from an early age for his strength and ability to score, not to mention his versatility, he was exactly what Down needed and he flourished in the role of target man and as a perfect foil for the great Benny Coulter. However, he required work and ended up in New York, where he has made a new life for himself.
Oisin: What’s it like living in New York during the pandemic?
Niall: It’s very scary. There is a huge amount of uncertainty everywhere. My girlfriend, who I live with, contracted the virus in early March — she had all five symptoms. She is a school teacher and they reckon she contracted it through her job. One day we had to rush her to the hospital and on another occasion she was taken by ambulance. That was pretty scary, but thankfully she made a full recovery. All that meant I had to quarantine for two weeks, which meant I was off work, but effectively my job never stopped because it’s seen as essential construction. Since the two-week quarantine, I’ve been back full-time working.
Oisin: Do you feel safe there?
Niall: I take the subway to work. Throughout the pandemic it’s been pretty quiet, but you can see it getting busier now in the last number of weeks. To begin with, most people drove to work or took lifts, so there was no one on the train and social distancing was that bit easier. The more people on the train, the more worried I’ve become. I wear a mask while travelling to and from work. It’s a strict rule in work that a mask must be worn at all times, so that basically leaves me wearing a mask 24/7. The job itself feels safe. There are staggered start times and we must be 6ft apart at all times.
Oisin: How do you feel US President Donald Trump is handling the situation?
Niall: I steer clear of the politics — I genuinely don’t follow any of it. The only thing I can say is that in America Trump divides opinion.
Oisin: Have you been able to maintain training?
Niall: Yes. Just training by ourselves, we are following the same rules as the GAA at home.�� We are not training in Gaelic Park — we are in small groups and using the parks around the city. Johny Glynn is our trainer this year and we are following the weights and running programmes he has set out for us. We got together once to do 1,000kms between us in one day to raise money for people within the Irish community who may be struggling at this time. It was great seeing the lads, even though it was for a short period of time.
Oisin: How much do you miss home?
Niall: I miss it a hell of a lot. I’m constantly on the phone to home to speak to family and stay in touch. I particularly miss Christmas time at home.
Oisin: What’s it like playing football in America?
Niall: Being part of it has been thoroughly enjoyable... meeting new lads from all over Ireland and then the home-based American lads that play. The opposition is really tough, with two or three very good teams, so it’s difficult to progress.
Oisin: What’s the big difference between playing in New York and at home?
Niall: Facilities are the first thing. The GAA doesn’t own Gaelic Park, so we have nowhere to call home and no centre of excellence, which makes life tough. At home, the Down squad does 90% of their sessions together, which creates team spirit and a bond.
Oisin: Do you see changes in football in New York?
Niall: Yeah there is a big improvement. Gerry Fox has taken over and there is a four-year plan in place. Johny Glynn is the trainer and I think things are only going to go from strength to strength.
Oisin: Who are the young American players to watch out for?
Niall: Tiernan Matthews, Shane Slattery and Mikey Brosnan. All American-born lads, young and hugely talented.
Oisin: Will you ever return home to play football?
Niall: I don’t know. My intentions are to stay here and raise a family in New York. Going back home is not on my radar at the moment.
Oisin: Which player do you most admire in today’s game?
Niall: If I can give you two players — Con O’Callaghan and Damien Comer. Both full forwards, similar to myself, both two-footed and strong and direct.
Oisin: What’s your plan when your playing days are over?
Niall: Definitely coaching at some stage, but when I finish up I would like a few years away from the game to hopefully start a family, then at that stage get coaching with kids first.
Oisin: What’s the best thing about the GAA?
Niall: I’ve always loved it, so to come to America and stay involved while working and making a life for myself and my girlfriend is testimony to being involved in it.