Oisín McConville; From Crossmaglen to Gneeveguilla

March 2nd, 2013
by Eamonn Fitzgerald

Oisín McConville; From Crossmaglen to Gneeveguilla
Oisín McConville was made a freeman of Gneeveguilla on Friday night last and was presented with the green& gold geansaí of the local GAA club to mark the occasion to Sliabh Luachra land, a guest speaker for the public meeting organised by Gneeveguilla GAA

This recognition was not for his football prowess ,( see  Fact File below ), but for something far more valuable ,as he touched the hearts of all from grandchildren to grandparents , who came to hear him tell his own story, his personal struggle to deal with his internal demon, addiction to gambling. Many of those present knew of his public persona, but like all of us human beings there is the public and private selves and often they are anything but harmonious. Outwardly successful' sure everything is grand', but inside unnerving turbulence.

His story was riveting. He placed hid first bet at the age of 14, one year later he was betting more frequently and each year the passion to bet grew. Strange enough , he loved everything about it; there was the buzz out of laying bets even more so than winning. This spiralled until it took over his life and he owed so much money to so many people. In his own book . The Gambler,he estimated that he went through in the region of  £ 120,000 sterling. He openly admitted to this Kerry audience that he was a compulsive liar. He told the chilling story of being on the bus with the Armagh team on the way to Croke Park, when he got a sinister phone call and warning about getting money from the wrong people. He did not specify who these people were.

He talked about the isolation and through it all he was so successful on the football fields. He did not shed a tear on the day of his father's funeral and that still sticks with him. He did not bet on that day, but he did on the following day and every day afterwards. Then he hit rock bottom and with help from family members he had a 13 week stay in the Cuan Mhuire rehabilitation and treatment centre in Athenry. He is a regular attender at Gamblers 'Anonymous meetings and gives many talks to groups around the country as well as being a mentor for people who are brave enough to get help and get on the road to recovery from this dreadful addiction." Even if I help just one person here tonight it (the 5 hour car journey from Crossmaglen to Gneeveguilla) will be worthwhile", he said.

GAA clubs are communities and central to their role must always be the welfare of its members. Clubs must be pro active in reaching out to their members, especially those struggling with various addictions. That is the mantra for the ASAP initiative by the GAA for its entire clubs. All clubs have members who are struggling with addictions, real struggles with alcohol, drugs and other abuses. Well done by Gneeveguilla GAA club for taking this initiative. All clubs can learn from this forum

Cross and Crokes Hurting
Away from the public glare in the Gneeveguilla Hall ,he did talk to us about Crossmaglen and Crokes. We told him how Crokes are disappointed having lost in Thurles. "Yes, and we in Cross are also hurting, hurting very badly". Crokes did not play well. His response was swift ," and neither did we. We trained  so hard for this 3 in a row bid ,but ours was also a poor enough display". That great goal by the corner back who swept upfield kept you in it. "Aye and that wee lad is just 19 ". What happened to you to come off so early. "I damaged my quad when we was training on the week of the game"?  Neither the time, nor the place to probe further about possible retirement coming up, but it can't be far away.A more important fixture beckons telling his own true story to a very attentive audience.

His fact file shows the many great games and titles he won. His days in the black & amber of his beloved Crossmaglen colours will be ending, but the biggest challenge of all continues as a recovering gambling addict. Will the addiction return? Never say never  is the mantra of GA. Oisín McConville, a brave man whose inner self played a stormer in Gneeveguilla on Friday night last.

Online gambling especially is big business. It's difficult to get a handle on what the online gambling market is worth in Ireland, but some believe it could be up to €2 billion a year, with Paddy Power, the country's largest bookmaker, having somewhere in the region of a million active users.Last November a 26 year old Offaly inter-county footballer went public year about having gambling debts of €80,000; he estimates that he has spent €200,000 on gambling since he was 18. He sought treatment and spent time at the Rutland Centre.

Placing bets is not a problem for so many people. It is very popular; how many bookie shops  are in Killarney? And they are all doing business. Addictive ambling is a problem for some GAA players and for every other sports club as well. It does not stop there; it is a malaise for some in the general public.

Retirement Update
Two days after leaving Gneeveguilla, Oisín confirmed the news of his retirement from football on Twitter, saying:"Sad to have to call it a day. But here, ye have to give someone else a chance at winning a championship!

'The Score' reported on Journal.ie  that speaking to the BBC, he said the decision felt appropriate."For my own personal reasons it is the right time - I have been picking up injuries and different things like that. I'm happy with the decision and at peace with the fact that I'm not going to be playing football anymore. I have had an unbelievable time playing Gaelic football and I've won so much, but for me it was much more than that - it was my life for so many years. It is going to be hard, and there is going to be a big void but I have plenty of things to replace it." Let's hope he continues his vital crusade helping those addicted to gambling.

Fact File    Oisín McConville
With Crossmaglen McConville  won 16 Armagh titles including 13 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 won10 Ulster club titles and 6 All Ireland club titles. His sole All Ireland with Armagh was in 2002 against Kerry ,when he overcame the setback of having his first half penalty saved, to step up and scores the vital second  half goal.   

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