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Tyrone are set to veto Tony award

By Declan Bogue

Published 03/08/2016

Winner alright: Tony McEntee (right) has been brought in by Mayo boss Stephen Rochford to bolster the side’s winning mentality
Winner alright: Tony McEntee (right) has been brought in by Mayo boss Stephen Rochford to bolster the side’s winning mentality

In 'Field of Dreams', Thomas Niblock's incredible documentary about life inside the bubble of Crossmaglen Rangers, the outside world got a glimpse of what goes into greatness.

It takes a talent like Jamie Clarke going down to the field by himself, practising hitting goal after goal, while recording a self-assessment of his performances after each game.

And straight-talking, like when co-manager Oisín McConville told his panel there was 'no integrity in this room', when some members yielded to temptation and drank alcohol the week before a Championship match.

More than anything, we learned what a winning culture looks like, and it's built brick by brick, year by year.

Would Armagh have won an All-Ireland in 2002 unless they were managed by a man steeped in that Cross culture, and who had already delivered All-Irelands at club level, in Joe Kernan?

Which neatly leads us to one of that team. Tony McEntee played as a forerunner of the modern-day sweeper for Armagh and Kernan, and since last winter has been coaching the Mayo team that faces Tyrone on Saturday.

You cannot underestimate McEntee's success. As a player, he won 12 Armagh Championships, seven Ulster club titles and two All-Irelands. The list of honours at underage is too long to list here.

As manager, he won three Armagh titles, three Ulster titles and two All-Ireland titles in three years.

No wonder then, that when Stephen Rochford came to compile a backroom team, McEntee was invited in.

Mayo also have Barry Solan and Donie Buckley on the coaching staff, a link going back to James Horan's spell in charge. But the addition of McEntee was a signal that they wanted to tap into his winning habits.

Since the shock defeat to Galway, it is understood that Rochford and McEntee have taken a firmer hand in the training. Such a development would suggest that it would bring about a Crossmaglen-Corofin hybrid style of play, but they clearly decided against that a long time ago.

It's often been falsely said that Crossmaglen never employed a sweeper, and Joe Brolly wrote in his column back in mid-February: 'Tony McEntee said once during a meeting of the coaches in Crossmaglen that he couldn't understand why teams played a blanket defence. In Cross, they view it as an invitation to win. They go man to man on the sweepers and hem the opponent into their own defensive area with a full-court press'.

Well, we are here now in August, and Mayo are using a sweeper in Kevin McLoughlin. Just like Cross in the 90s, their sweeper at the time being a certain Tony McEntee, with Gavin Cummiskey dropping back from corner-forward to fill the space.

Mayo's problems emanate from trying to change their strategy. For Horan's four-year spell in charge they played an element of off-the-cuff and a healthy mixture of kicking and a running game.

Now, their gameplan pays more attention to closing up shop at the back. The change has been fraught.

After their win over London in this year's Connacht quarter-final, they stayed on for a five-night training camp at the training ground of London Irish. A significant chunk of that was given over to strategy sessions, the 'bookwork' that the players apparently craved.

Their game against Galway was only a week away when they came back. Asked about the camp, Rochford commented: "These camps, by their nature, are hard work - a lot of football and a lot of football talk.

"There's very little downtime, to be honest … it's a mentally and physically tiring couple of days."

He added that the week had been "very tiring", and it took a while to "come round" after it.

Right now, it looks like 10 months is too short to change a culture, whether that be tactically or mentally. Mayo look like a team struggling with their identity, a situation personified by the out-of-sorts Aidan O'Shea.

If they wanted Tony McEntee in to change things, then he might have laid foundations, but the house isn't out of the ground enough to be visible by now.

The great danger is the life cycle of this generation means they won't be around for the roof to go on.

Belfast Telegraph

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