Tony McEntee and Kevin Madden emerge as contenders for vacant Antrim post
A MANAGEMENT team of former Crossmaglen boss Tony McEntee and ex-Antrim ace Kevin Madden have thrown their hats into the ring to take over the Saffron reins from Lenny Harbinson.
Ever since the Belfast man stepped down last week, Tyrone’s three-time All-Ireland winner Enda McGinley has been regarded as the clear front-runner – with his proposed backroom team expected to include another former Red Hand star, Stephen O’Neill.
However, McEntee and Madden added a major twist to proceedings when they entered the race before nominations closed yesterday lunchtime, while former Down and Armagh boss Paddy O’Rourke is also believed to be in the frame.
A management team of Derry’s Paddy Bradley – whose father Liam led the Saffrons to the 2009 Ulster final - and ex-Antrim player Kevin Brady was also in the running, but have since withdrawn from the process.
Interviews with the Antrim County Board will take place over the course of the coming days, with an appointment expected early next week.
McEntee and Madden were also in contention for the Monaghan job when Malachy O’Rourke stepped aside last year and, having stayed in touch since their Ulster University days, the pair are keen to get involved on the inter-county stage together.
Madden was recently part of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone backroom team, while McEntee – alongside Gareth O’Neill - led his home club to All-Ireland titles in 2011 and 2012.
The 2002 All-Ireland winner added to his reputation when he was part of Stephen Rochford’s Mayo backroom team for three years, during which time the westerners were Dublin’s greatest challengers in the search for Sam Maguire.
“Tony was always a guy I liked and respected both as a player and for what he’s done in management,” said Madden last night.
“I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’m passionate to be involved in the management of my own county, and whenever you’re talking about working with somebody of the calibre of Tony McEntee, and the CV he has, it is something I would be interested in doing.
“Antrim have been loitering around Division Four, we’ve been very unlucky the last couple of years to miss out on promotion, but I’d like to think myself and Tony would bring a real fresh energy and a serious standard of coaching.
“Tony has massive experience from his time with Mayo, he’s a two-time All-Ireland winning club manager, and I just feel that together we could give the people of Antrim a football team that they would be proud of.”
That said, Madden admitted he does have some reservations about the “integrity of the process to this point”, with McGinley confirming in a weekend radio interview that he had already held talks about the vacancy.
“We’ve been nominated for the post and been asked to attend an interview, though we do have some concerns about the integrity of the process to this point,” said Madden
“There’s no ifs or buts about me and Tony McEntee wanting to come and manage Antrim, that’s something we really want to do, but we have to make sure it’s a level playing field we are entering.”
On his recent role with Tyrone, Madden admitted he was saddened to be leaving following Mickey Harte’s departure, but insisted the past year had proved “invaluable” in terms of the experience he has gained as a coach.
“Unbelievably so,” he said.
“When you’re tasked with coaching and communicating game-plans to take on the likes of Dublin, Kerry, Donegal and so on, you know you are operating at a high level. There’s not a second wasted in those sessions leading into a game. It’s intense, it’s all game related and it pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone, which can only be a good thing.
“Although it was only a short period of time, it gave you a real appreciation about the level of detail and meticulous preparation involved in preparing a county like Tyrone, who have been among the top three or four teams in Ireland for a long time.
“It’s been invaluable, and at the same time an enjoyable experience.”