The class acts... Tony McEntee selects his MacRory Cup Allstars
AN All-Ireland winner with Armagh in 2002 and with his club Crossmaglen Rangers too, Tony McEntee was also part of the management team that took Mayo to within touching distance of the elusive Sam Maguire in 2017.
The Crossmaglen native chose to wind the clock back to his school days at the Abbey CBS in Newry and pick an Allstars side from his team-mates and the players they took on in their quest for a MacRory Cup. Andy Watters writes…
THE MacRory Cup scene in the mid-1990s was dominated by St Patrick's, Maghera. The Derry students completed a three in-a-row in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and to do that they had to withstand everything their rivals could throw at them. The action was fast-flowing and ferocious as emerging players battled to get their hands on the biggest prize in Ulster Schools' football.
Tony McEntee enjoyed his footballing days at the Abbey CBS where he was in the company of a number of players – including twin brother John – who would progress to unforgettable achievements on the inter-county scene.
“I had a very good experience in schools' football generally,” says Tony.
“At the Abbey we had a good balance of players from south Armagh and Down and at that time both were quite progressive counties in a lot of ways in relation to the players they were developing and the way they were making progress.
“I'm thinking particularly of my Armagh team-mates like Enda McNulty. Aidan O'Rourke, Barry Duffy, my brother John and myself and Oisin (McConville) who was there for a while but left to do his A-Levels in St Pat's, Armagh before we went to MacRory Cup level. We had a lot of players from Crossmaglen as well and a good group from Ballyholland in Down – Shane Mulholland and Ben Cunningham and other people.
“The downside to my time in schools' football was not winning a MacRory Cup. We never won one and we had some superb teams. We came up against a good (St Patrick's) Maghera team and we fell short simply because we never had a really reliable free-taker. A number of people, including myself, hit frees at different points but when it really mattered we fell short because we had no free-taker.
“But we had good times, we had a good coach in Val Kane and we had an excellent experience. We trained really hard, some people thought we over-trained but I didn't. We had really solid teams but we simply weren't good enough at different stages of the campaign.
“It was a much more enjoyable time for me playing football than college football (at Jordanstown). I didn't like college football to be honest, I didn't enjoy the training or the approach to it. Obviously I had good relationships with different people but schools football was much more memorable for me.”
McEntee describes Maghera as “a serious team” and their stats support that theory. The Coleraine Road school completed a three in-a-row in Ulster and reached the Hogan Cup final each year, winning the competition in 1995.
“They won three in-a-row and not only did they do that, they were dominant all over,” says Tony.
“They were very strong, very solid defensively and they had the likes of Mark Diamond who never made it through to county football but, at least from our perspective looking in, he was the outstanding fielder of his generation. We put people up against him – the likes of Barry Duffy and John and myself - but the fella was big and strong and mobile. If a ball needed to be won, he won it. They had Paul Diamond as well and Sean Marty (Lockhart) and they were a solid team, well trained at that stage by Adrian McGuckin, and they were a good outfit.
“To be fair, Derry schools would have very good underage structures and very good underage teams but Derry at that time wouldn't have been strong at inter-county level. I suppose it shows you that good schools teams don't guarantee good county teams.”
Among the other challengers during that were St Michael's, Enniskillen who were backboned by the Gallagher brothers, Rory and Ronan, and Colm Bradley.
“St Michael's had pace and power and they were then, and probably still are now, very confident about themselves,” said Tony.
“They were probably seen as arrogant out on the field but they were superbly athletic and confident in their ability and they delivered and that was the important thing. They delivered whenever they needed to.”
Interestingly, there are no players from the Abbey's Newry rivals St Colman's College on Tony's side. He explained that the Violet Hill school had temporarily fallen off the pace during his time.
“St Colman's wouldn't have been strong then,” he said.
“Before my time they would have been strong with Diarmuid Marsden and Barry O'Hagan and people like that but in my time they weren't particularly strong.
“Maghera were our rivals and at that stage they were everybody's rivals. We were the team that should have won but never could win. Every year we underperformed to be honest whereas every year Maghera performed.”
1 Karl Archie Kimmons (Abbey CBS)
HE learned his trade in the old Corrinshego playing fields and he was a fabulous shot-stopper. Played county minor's for Armagh in goals against Derry and was busiest man on the pitch which earned him a call-up to the senior team. Coached by a Crossmaglen man called Frank Harvey. Played the most fabulous rendition of ‘Lonesome boatman' on the tin whistle.
2 John Heaney (St Patrick's, Maghera)
HE captained that great Maghera team. A small but teak-tough corner-back who was aggressive and rarely beaten. Often marked our best forwards and came out on top.
3 Seamus Duffy (St Patrick's, Armagh)
ONE of many superb Cullyhanna players in a team which also included Aidan Lloyd and Des Mackin. Seamus was surely destined for big things but he discovered that the lure of girls along the Armagh Mall was irresistible. Got me out of trouble many a time and that was even before he became a solicitor!
4 Sean Marty Lockhart (St Patrick's, Maghera)
MADE from the same mould that produced Tony Scullion. From his early days he wanted to excel and worked tirelessly at his game. He practiced those short, fast feet movements constantly when he was off the field. Without doubt the most dedicated footballer I've had the pleasure of knowing.
5 Conleith Murphy (St Patrick's, Maghera)
NOW works as a consultant cardiologist in the Belfast Trust, back then he was a dynamic, pacey half-back with floppy hair who had no end of energy on the field. Bellaghy's Paul Diamond is also worth a mention as someone who I went on to have many battles at club level with Cross and who I became good friends with in UUJ.
6 Aidan O'Rourke (Abbey CBS)
SOLID and reliable, despite playing all his career without a left foot. Aidan always found space and rarely got into trouble in possession. He often carried our defence and would never give in. Went on to win an All-Ireland with Armagh in 2002 and is forever remembered for his inch-perfect pass to Stevie McDonnell for the winning score.
7 Damien Teague (St Patrick's, Dungannon)
NEVER one for the fancy football or flashes of brilliance but he knew how to hit and he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He was incredibly strong and a great reader of the game. I don't recall that he had huge pace, though Francie Bellew didn't have great pace either and it affected neither of them much. .
8 Mark Diamond (St Patrick's, Maghera)
IT'S a mystery to me that Mark Diamond never played much after schools football at a competitive level. He was completely dominant at schools football and without doubt the best of his time at fielding and dominating his position. When it came to the MacRory his performance was the difference between the Abbey winning and losing.
9 Tom Brewster (St Michael's, Enniskillen)
PERHAPS he was over-shadowed by his older brother Paul but by my estimation he was a better footballer. Classy left foot, composed in possession and he could certainly field a high ball. Was the driving force for school, club and county throughout his entire career.
10 Michael McCormick (St Patrick's, Maghera)
YET another Derry maestro who fell off the radar but who, at that moment in time, was a joy to watch as he dominated the middle third. He had size and power and from memory was really direct. A force to be reckoned with.
11 Shane Mulholland (Abbey CBS)
A SUPERB athlete with unbelievable fitness and buckets of style and class. The MacRory fitness training under Val Kane was the stuff of legend (and nightmare to some) and no one could better Shane in distance running. The Ballyhollland native dabbled with the foreign game and then went onto represent his county with pride and is now SVP of operations at First Derivatives. It's no surprise that he has been so successful in life.
12 Colm Bradley (St Michael's, Enniskillen)
THIS guy was good, really good. At MacRory level he was powerfully built, seemed more physically mature than most and he had the Enniskillen arrogance in abundance. Scored goals for fun. Had a short county career afterwards.
13 Paul Cunningham (Abbey CBS)
THE best school footballer I know that didn't go on to have an inter-county career. He was phenomenal throughout school years. Pacey, dynamic and brave he was a joy to play with. Earned the nickname 'rubber' as when he was knocked to the floor he'd bounce straight back up - unusual for a Down man, I hear you say.
14 Rory Gallagher (St Michael's, Enniskillen)
RORY and Raymond tortured defences for years and while Raymond was strong, powerful and extremely direct, Rory was composed, stylist and uber confident. His free-taking was exemplary and crucially won many games. If the Abbey had had a Rory Gallagher we would have won two MacRory cups for sure.
15 Brian McGuckin (St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon)
THE only one of the McGuckin clan represented but in truth they could all have featured. Perhaps he stood out because of his unique ability to poach goals, or his ability to turn on a six pence, or maybe it was just his red hair. In any event, he was virtually impossible to mark and a real thorn in the side of opposing defences.
I WANTED to stay away from putting more predictable people in that I had spent a lot of time with since school – the likes of Enda McNulty and John (McEntee) and Oisin. I wanted to be fair to the people of that time who would have been very good at that time but who would have disappeared since.