Where are they now? A trip Down memory lane with 1968 All-Ireland winner Ray McConville
Position: Right half-back
When did you play for Down? 1967-1974
What do you do nowadays?
I’m a retired teacher. I was in De La Salle High School in Downpatrick for 29 years and then I went across to the Red High before I retired five or six years ago. Life’s good, I can’t complain at all.
Are you still involved in Gaelic football?
No, I’ve probably taken a back seat nowadays. I managed Downpatrick for five years after I got married and moved into the town but that really was it. I’m not a great spectator.
What do you remember about your first game for Down?
I think it was against Armagh in the McKenna Cup or the League, it certainly wasn’t the Championship. The main thing I remember about it was I got a very nice little scar behind my ear after a tackle. That was a wee welcome to inter-county football.
But playing for Down, especially at that time, was a big honour. I remember ’60-’61 when the boys won then, it stands out so clearly. Everybody wanted to play then, never dreaming that seven years later it would happen again.
One memory in particular was in Kilclief, probably during the tournament week, and somebody pointed out ‘that’s Paddy Doherty’ and ‘that’s John Smyth’, because Ballykinlar were playing that night.
Eddie McKay, the goalie in 1960, was local as well. We also had Ciaran Denvir and Pat Fitzsimons who were on the panel, they were from Kilclief, and men like Frank Sharvin who was always on the fringe of the county.
What’s your best memory from your playing days?
It has to be 1968. When I think back to that time, I think of the whole season, not just one particular day, because we had a great National League that year and that really set us up for the Championship.
I always got the impression the team was building more towards 1969 but the run in the League pushed us on, and then we had the game against Derry up in Ballinascreen. It was a cracker.
Derry were hoping to win the All-Ireland because they had a really good team, guys like Sean O’Connell. But so were we. That was our toughest game of that season, and the only game where I got my marching orders for getting involved with Mickey Niblock.
Mickey and I watched the end of the second half from the sideline but I’ve met Mickey since that and the craic’s good.
We were lucky I suppose. The team just came together at the right time. In the final against Kerry they had men like Mick O’Connell and Mick O’Dwyer but we played it down as much as possible.
We knew it was a big game but we didn’t let it faze us at all. We just thought ‘bring it on’. We weren’t cocky but we were very focused. We were ready for Kerry when it came to it, and they weren’t ready for us.
I remember celebrating with Colm McAlarney around the middle of the field at the final whistle, and the presentation is still as clear as day.
The celebrations in Strangford and Kilclief were special because the people really came out and I appreciated that very much. They went the extra mile.
Is it fair to say that 1968 team broke up too early?
Absolutely. I’ve no doubt in my mind we had two All-Irelands in us and, if we were under the back door system used today, we’d have been there in September '69, no question about it.
When you lose people like Paddy Doherty and Joe Lennon, they’re hard to replace. But there were young fellas coming through. You were always hoping.
And what’s your worst memory?
Nobody likes to be beaten and, in that 1969 Ulster final, we should’ve beaten Cavan. But it was just one of those things. Then in 1971 we played Galway in the semi-final - we weren’t ready for it and they caught us on the hop. That was not a nice day.
Who was the biggest character you played with?
Take your pick. You had men like Mickey Cole, James Milligan, Peter Rooney, I could go on all day.
These guys were real characters but, probably of them all, I’d say Danny Kelly. He was never short of something witty to say but he had something wise to say too. When you were playing in front of Danny he let you know, and that’s a good thing. Danny was just Danny.
Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?
In a way I’d have loved to have played the way they play today because I always loved to push forward and come into the attack as much as possible, and probably today’s game would have suited me.
Maybe not winning two, but beyond that not really. I enjoyed the football, enjoyed the craic, enjoyed the lads. We had a good time and we won what a lot of people never have and never will win.
Interview by Neil Loughran