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Tony McEntee is out to seize unexpected chance of more Croke Park glory

By John Campbell

Published 15/09/2016

Hands on: Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor gets to grips with Brian Fox of Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final
Hands on: Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor gets to grips with Brian Fox of Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final
Top men: Mayo manager Stephen Rochford with Tony McEntee

Armagh 2002 All-Ireland winner Tony McEntee will see his faith in Mayo football put to the ultimate test on Sunday.

Never one to shirk a challenge on or off the field in a distinguished career as a player, manager and coach, McEntee stands on the brink of what would surely be one of his most satisfying achievements should Mayo confound the sceptics and conquer Dublin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park.

When he agreed to take up a coaching role with the Connacht side earlier this year at the invitation of newly-appointed manager Stephen Rochford, McEntee backed up his decision with a refreshingly honest appraisal of just how he viewed a county which has lost five All-Ireland finals since the mid-90s.

"I have always had a fondness for Mayo and the way they play football, the passion they have for the game. It would be great to see the side come up trumps because it would mean so much to the county," said McEntee.

Not since 1951 has the western county had the opportunity to pay homage to the Sam Maguire Cup, but the barren decades since then have not proved a barrier to McEntee's commitment to what is viewed as the 'ultimate cause' in Gaelic football.

When the team lost to Galway in the Connacht final, thus missing the chance to land half a dozen titles on the trot, and then just managed to stumble over the line against an off-key Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final, the odds on the breakthrough to end all breakthroughs occurring this year markedly lengthened.

Even after Tipperary's noble aspirations of glory were bushwhacked at the semi-final stage, doubts still continue to surround the ability of McEntee's adopted county to write a stirring chapter in GAA history.

But you won't find the modest, unassuming McEntee assailed by doubts or burdened by apprehension.

His input into the team's tactics and strategy is significant, while his motivational prowess has been employed to good effect by manager Rochford to date.

For someone who turned down the opportunity to manage Down and who had veered away from involvement in the demanding inter-county football arena, this is a role that he never expected to fulfil.

Yet in his own languid manner he pinpoints just why Sunday could become yet another truly memorable day for him at the game's greatest sporting cathedral.

"I remember leaving the Dublin v Mayo semi-final replay last year and I had my mind made up that I was pretty much not going into inter-county football again," explained McEntee. "As it happened, I met Padraic, the brother of Mayo captain Cillian O'Connor, just randomly in the crowd leaving the stadium.

"He was obviously disappointed that Mayo lost but I was actually equally disappointed with just how the game went and the outcome of the match.

"I thought that maybe if I was going to do anything that would come up again, I might take up a role with Mayo."

Padraic O'Connor's subsequent course of action following that casual, off the cuff conversation with McEntee could yet lead to a trip into a sporting paradise for all concerned with Mayo on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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