Oisin McConville has admitted he’ll ‘bail out’ of Crossmaglen with his young family if Brexit negotiations go badly and a hard border is reinstated on the island.
The Armagh great recently agreed to manage Monaghan side Inniskeen, just a 15-minute drive from his home though, crucially, in another county and the far side of the international border.
With a general election in Britain taking place tomorrow and nobody too sure how the Brexit issue will ultimately pan out, McConville admitted his worst fear is that a physical partition returns in the area.
This would make his new role in Monaghan much more difficult to hold down, though he said his far bigger fear is a potential return to tensions and perhaps even violence in south Armagh.
McConville grew up during the Troubles — “the norm was bombings and shootings and killings, windows being blown in, all that sort of stuff” —and he isn’t prepared to go through it again.
“There is a possibility, and that might only be a small possibility, but there’s a possibility that it could lead to further trouble,” said McConville. “And for somebody to put us back into that situation, the first thing I’d do is bail out. I’d take the kids and I’d bail out because I wouldn’t bring my kids up in that scenario.
"I live in Cross, just outside it. There’s no way I would bring my kids up in that now. No chance. So even the fact that there is even a slight possibility, that would fill me with fear, to be honest.”
McConville admitted he didn’t realise until he was 11 that what he grew up in wasn’t normal and acknowledged that a gambling addiction he later developed was partly from trauma arising from the conflict.
All of those memories were dragged right back up for the former Crossmaglen player and manager when he undertook a five-day trip to the occupied Palestinian territories with Trócaire to view a number of projects supporting those affected by the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.
“I suppose it might be unfair to make a direct comparison to what was going on in Cross but there are loads of similarities,” said McConville, who identified with the “intimidation, oppression, and harassment” of locals.
I remember we used to train in Lurgan with Armagh, I think it was my second year there. Everyone was collected at Cross at half six and we would have been in Lurgan at half seven. We left Cross one day and we were stopped six times on the way because they (soldiers) knew what the route was.
"We were stopped six times when they’d take the bags out of the car, they threw on the ground what was in them. They didn’t put the stuff back in the car. We eventually arrived at a quarter to 10, had a cup of tea and went home again. That was the sort of situation.”
McConville said even the slimmest prospect of a return to those days fills him with dread. “It’d be a pain to be honest,” he said. “It would make the Inniskeen job really, really tough because I’d have to cross the border.
“One of the reasons, not the main reason, but one of the reasons for taking the job is that the commute is 15 minutes. That would definitely change and make it a bit of a nightmare.”
McConville said he was only partly ready for what awaited him on his trip with Trócaire and couldn’t believe the resilience of children in particular. He met one eight-year-old who finished school at 11.30am each day before working on a fishing boat with his father for the rest of the day, selling sandwiches to other fishermen on the side to raise extra money.
“My wee lad is seven and I wouldn’t let him cross the road on his own,” shrugged McConville.
“They’re living in an outdoor prison. I know they weren’t thinking of that full-time but I was, so I met them and I was thinking about, ‘Where does the resilience come from to keep going every day?’ If you’re looking to do a resilience course here, I’m sure Enda (McNulty) or somebody would give you one and charge plenty to go to it.
"People are doing that, management teams are doing that all the time but resilience was just there in front of your face all the time out there.”
Meanwhile, McConville suggested that five-in-a-row winners Dublin could potentially move to another level under new management.
“I think there’s a couple of players there who realistically can break into that team and possibly make them a little bit better, a little bit sharper. Realistically the next person in could win another two or three in a row.”
Oisín McConville travelled to the occupied Palestinian territories with Trócaire to highlight their Christmas Appeal, which will help to support families who are living in conflict zones around the world. Donate at: trocaire.org/christmas-appeal