Oisín McConville argues that All-Star recognition helped Armagh develop the confidence needed to win the All-Ireland championship in 2002.
Oisín McConville argues that All-Star recognition helped Armagh develop the confidence needed to win the All-Ireland championship in 2002.

PwC All-Stars Legends - Oisín McConville


By Kevin Egan

Meath, Kerry and Galway may have been the kingpins at the time, but from the outside looking in, it was clear that Armagh were desperately close to the level needed to win an All-Ireland around about the turn of the millenium.

From 1999 to 2001, the Orchard County were knocked out of the All-Ireland race by the eventual champions every year. Meath were clearly the better team in the 1999 All-Ireland semi-final, but an extra-time, replay defeat to Kerry in 2000 and an 0-13 to 0-12 loss to Galway in 2001 proved that a first ever Sam Maguire success for the county was right at their fingertips.

In fact it could be argued that in footballing terms, they didn’t make any huge advances in terms of the standard of their play in 2002. They just mastered the art of winning tight games, including an All-Ireland final against Kerry, where Oisín McConville’s goal proved the crucial score in a 1-12 to 0-14 victory.

Armagh’s margins of victory in the All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and final that year were two points, one point and one point respectively, while they also overcame Tyrone in a one-score game in that year’s Ulster championship. Mentally, they were unbreakable in tight finishes – and McConville feels that the recognition that he and several other key players from that team received in the form of All-Star awards was vital in helping them develop that self-belief.

“I won awards in both 2000 and 2002, and while 2002 was great because we had won the All-Ireland, when you’ve done that, you don’t need the validation because you have the biggest prize of them all. The award in 2000 probably meant that bit more because even though we’d won a couple of Ulster titles, you still couldn’t be sure if you were ever going to win an All-Ireland," he recalls.

“Then you get your award and you rub shoulders with guys that you envy, lads from Kerry and Galway that have won All-Ireland titles, and you feel that as a player you’re on a par with them. That opens up the world of possibility for you in your mind."

Between 1999 and 2000, Armagh received 17 nominations and four awards, including Oisín’s first award, and he recalls the journey that the team were on at the time.

“In 1999, we simply weren’t ready, and in 2000 we probably just didn’t quite have the belief in ourselves needed. The All-Star awards are definitely a huge part of how we were able to bridge that gap."

Oisín McConville celebrates after scoring a goal in the 2002 All-Ireland senior football final.
Oisín McConville celebrates after scoring a goal in the 2002 All-Ireland senior football final.

McConville sympathises with the nominees and future winners of the 2021 PwC All-Stars, who will be denied the opportunity to attend a physical ceremony and meet their peers from around the country due to the cancellation of the live event, however he says with a smile that a lot of the ‘demystifying’ of come of their opponents took place, not at the presentation, but on the subsequent All-Star tours.

“Ah you’d need a holiday to recover after you got back from them! In 2001 we went out to Dubai and the hotel we stayed in was grandeur on a level that we’d never seen before. There was a local Irish village and we spent more time there than we should have, but it was a great experience. The games were pure exhibition stuff, it was really all about the socializing, the football wasn’t really taken that seriously. Same with a lot of the sport really – I remember playing snooker with Páidí (Ó Sé) at around half three or four one morning, and the snooker wasn’t too hot either!

“But sure that was always the way on those tours, if you were able to keep up with the Kerry boys at all, it was good going!”

Now, two decades later, he views the award as a measure of his success on the field, while also paying tribute to some forward thinking on behalf of the sponsors at the time!

“I still have some of the gear that we got from Eircell and Vodafone, who were the sponsors back then. I think they were thinking ahead, because it wasn’t exactly player-fit, it was like they were planning that lads would still be able to wear it in their fifties!”  

“When I was playing, obviously everything you did was all about the team” he continued.

“It’s only now when you look back, you see it as a reward for a lot of hard work as an individual player and a signal of how you performed when you were playing. That’s what it means to me now, that and how it was a really important milestone on the road to success for that Armagh team”.