"We did a lot of soldiering together..." Oisin McConville and Tony McEntee on opposite sides as Wicklow host Sligo in National League
A LITTLE over 18 months after Oisin McConville came kicking and screaming into this world on 13th October 1975, Tony McEntee (and his twin brother John of course) was born.
A couple of hundred yards separated the McConville and McEntee homes as they grew up and over the next three decades Oisin and Tony wrote their names into Crossmaglen and Armagh folklore as they kicked and screamed their way to glory.
Medal followed medal, starting with St Patrick’s Primary school and continuing through the underage ranks at their club to senior level. County, Ulster and All-Ireland titles in Crossmaglen’s black and amber and, with Armagh, Ulster, National League and All-Ireland titles during their county’s unprecedented spell of success.
Since hanging up their boots after those brilliant playing careers, the vastly-experienced duo have established themselves as astute managers and on Sunday they’ll find themselves on opposite sides for the first time in their lives.
McConville’s Wicklow host McEntee’s Sligo at Aughrim (2pm) in Division Four of the National Football League. It’s a novel pairing for the former neighbours who are both enjoying the build-up before the serious business begins.
“There’s plenty of banter about it,” said Tony.
“People about the town are having plenty of craic with it and talking about going down to watch the match. We’re on a number of WhatsApp groups with former team-mates as well and they’re all having a bit of a laugh about it.
“So it is a bit of craic, beyond the seriousness of the whole football end of it it’s enjoyable and entertaining and all the rest that we are on opposite sides on Sunday. It’s something we’re looking forward to, we enjoy the novelty of it because we’re obviously close friends.”
McEntee would love to have a scoring-machine like McConville at his disposal and McConville would love to have a ball-playing midfielder/half-forward like ‘Tony Mac’ in his Garden County side. Will the fact that they know each so well have any bearing on the result on Sunday? Tony thinks not…
“Oisin is only there a couple of months so he hasn’t had that long to decide how he wants them to play,” he said.
“The reality is that you adjust your style to the team that you have. Just because you have an idealised style of play it might not work with the players you have and you adjust for the opposition as well. So the way me or Oisin used to play or like to play won’t have much influence this weekend.”
OISIN McConville was managing Inniskeen Grattan's in Monaghan last season so last weekend’s draw with Carlow at Dr Cullen Park was his first competitive experience of management at inter-county level.
Fate has decreed that his second will be against an old team-mate and he joked that it would be “great to see a familiar face” at Aughrim on Sunday.
“Tony and me had some great days’ together,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of soldiering together and it’s just interesting that Sunday should bring us together again. It’s something for us both to be proud of and look forward to.
“Tony’s a lot more experienced at inter-county than I am but we’re far enough down the line of management that there’s nothing that’s going to shock us.
“We’ll get on with it, we’ll shake hands before the game and after the game and we’ll move on. I’d say we’ll be sitting in Cross club at an underage meeting in the next couple of weeks’ and things will continue.
“For an hour and-a-half on Sunday the game will seem like the most important thing in the world and after that you get on with the rest of your life.”
IN their opener last weekend, McEntee’s Yeatsmen lost out to Laois. Relegated from Division Three along with Wicklow last season, the former Mayo assistant-manager expected the O’Moore men to be promotion contenders this year and it looks like they will be.
“It was a very disappointing start for us, we’d hoped for more,” admitted McEntee, who guided Sligo to the brink of the Tailteann Cup final last year.
“We have three home games and, as all teams will, we planned to win those games so it’s a disappointing start but it’s not something that we can’t get over because we still have six games left.
“Laois and Wicklow are probably going to be the two toughest teams. They’re well-organised, good teams and it’ll be similar to last year when Cavan and Tipperary came down and really bounced back up. But at some stage the likes of Sligo, Leitrim, Wexford, Carlow and the other teams in Division Four need to take on the teams that come down and not allow that cycle of Division Three teams coming down and going back up to continue.
“That’s the challenge for us now and on Sunday we have to do it at Wicklow’s home ground so it’s a big challenge for us.”
He kept an eye on how his friend was doing against Carlow at Dr Cullen Park last weekend and reckons Wicklow’s draw was a good start for McConville.
“On the day Wicklow conceded two very poor goals which they wouldn’t normally do so, in essence, they were the better team, they just didn’t capitalise on it,” he said.
“But with a new management, with a new start for Oisin, I would see that as a positive result.”
McCONVILLE was hoping for victory on his inter-county managerial debut but he had to settle for a point after a high-scoring draw. He felt his Garden County side did enough to win the game but says he and his players learned a lot from their 2023 opener.
“As a group we still have a steep learning curve in inter-county football and we have a lot of lads who are very early on in their inter-county careers,” he said.
“We all have a little bit of learning to do and as much as I was disappointed last Saturday evening, I’ve learned a lot from it. The fact that we didn’t win probably will focus the mind a little bit more and make us more aware of the things we need to work on.
McConville is still getting to know his players and vice-versa. He took on the job with his “eyes wide open” and, although there are a lot of miles to cover, new people to meet and names to learn, he is quickly finding his feet.
“I went into it with a fair idea of what was in front of me,” he said.
“If anything, I’ve been pleasantly-surprised with how things are with the facilities. In Armagh one of the things that frustrates people involved in inter-county football and hurling is that there’s no base – we don’t have a proper training base with loads of pitches.
“In Wicklow have a very good centre of excellence and they have everything you could want there. I’ve had a serious buy-in from the players and that has made things easier as well.
“We’re all still getting to know each other – our personality traits, our sense of humour… Being so far up the country isn’t ideal so when I’m there I have to make the most of it and interact with players and people in general.
“When you travel down it is a pretty full-on day and there’s a lot to get through but I went into it with my eyes wide open and it’s more-or-less what I thought it would be. So far, so good.”