Sligo and Wicklow clash pits former Armagh team-mates Tony McEntee and Oisin McConville against each other

Oisin McConville has taken Wicklow to promotion in his first season as manager
Oisin McConville has taken Wicklow to promotion in his first season as manager Oisin McConville has taken Wicklow to promotion in his first season as manager

Allianz Football League Division Four final: Sligo v Wicklow (Saturday, Croke Park, 5pm, live on TG4)

THERE are so many sub-plots here it’s hard to know where to start.

Silverware and bragging rights are at stake as Wicklow and Sligo begin the weekend action on one of the few pitches in the country still operational with a Division Four final that has obvious links to county Armagh, south Armagh, Crossmaglen.

Oisin McConville, in his first season as a county manager, up against his life-long neighbour, friend and team-mate at primary school, club and county Tony McEntee… Sure you couldn’t make it up.

Intriguing as that match-up is, this final is not about the former Armagh and Crossmaglen colleagues, it’s about the players they’ve inspired to claw their way out of Division Four and the loyal supporters who will follow them to Croke Park.

Promotion was the objective and it has been achieved but victory in this decider will put some silverware in the clubhouse and give the winners an extra spring in their step for the Championship which is coming into view with indecent haste for both counties.

Win, lose or draw, both are back in action next weekend.  Wicklow meet Carlow in the Leinster Championship first round tomorrow week, the day after the Yeatsmen have crossed swords with London at McGovern Park, Ruislip in a Connacht quarter-final.

Fixture congestion is an issue for both managers and resources will have to be juggled carefully but winning at Croke Park is surely the best preparation for their Championship openers and McEntee’s Sligo travel east having already beaten Wicklow this season.

After losing their opening League game to Laois, the Yeatsmen0 went to Wicklow in round two and despite trailing by a point at half-time took control in the second half and won by six. 

A comfortable victory over Waterford followed that and Sligo hit the road for London in round four and came back with two points that put them right back in the promotion mix.

They haven’t looked back and last weekend’s one-point win over Leitrim made it six on the trot for McEntee.

Paddy O’Connor’s penalty against London was Sligo’s first goal the campaign but points have come from all over the field. McEntee had 18 scorers across the League and Sean Carrabine was outstanding throughout. 

Despite going off early against London, the Castleconnor clubman contributed 1-30 in the campaign with Niall Murphy (1-18) and Pat Spillane (2-10) providing consistent support.

Meanwhile, in the other camp, Oisin McConville returns to the scene of glory days with club and county.

As a player he always knew where to be, he didn’t fumble and rarely missed and when Armagh fans of a certain vintage close their eyes and cast their minds back 21 years they’ll see him burning up the Croke Park grass, grabbing Paul McGrane’s flick-on, slamming the ball into the Kerry net and wheeling away in joyous celebration.

The Crossmaglen faithful (who hold McEntee in the same high esteem) can do the very same of course. From the All-Ireland club final against Knockmore in 1997 to Garrycastle in 2012 and everywhere in between, McConville carried their hopes in black and amber and he made dreams come true with score after brilliant score.

McConville began his inter-county management career in relatively low-key surroundings. His Garden county side drew at Carlow’s Dr Cullen Park and then lost to McEntee’s Wicklow but they’ve gathered momentum since. A two-point win over previously-unbeaten Laois pushed them into the promotion frame and after Laois lost to Leitrim, Wicklow’s 2-8 to 0-8 victory against Waterford meant they bounced back up to Division Three after relegation last year.

Eoin Darcy has been McConville’s most consistent scorer and Dean Healy is a potential match-winner. The experienced frontman from the St Patrick’s club in Wicklow town has scored 3-4 in his last two games and 3-11 in total.

Last weekend McConville joked that is was “torture every weekend” watching his team do things the hard way.

“I wish some week that we would just do the thing simply,” he said after promotion had been sealed.

Winning this one won’t be simple for either county. After taking just a point from their first two games, Wicklow have shown a lot of bottle to get to this stage but Sligo, with six wins behind them, will start as favourites.