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Tony McEntee is set to be named as the Down manager

By Declan Bogue

Tony McEntee, the two-time All-Ireland Club Championship winning manager of Crossmaglen Rangers, will sit down with Down county board officials in connection with the vacant manager's job and could be unveiled as the new manager by the end of this weekend.

It's understood that a preliminary hearing has taken place, which suggests this weekend's meeting could be a formality. McEntee and O'Neill therefore could be making plans for Down's 2015 season as early as Sunday.

Down's selection panel includes chairman Seamus Walsh, vice-chairman William James Smith, their delegate to Central Council Sean Rooney and Brendan Fitzpatrick. Legendary midfielder Colm McAlarney also assisted in deliberations.

McEntee is managing Dublin club St Brigid's, but over a fortnight ago his co-manager with Crossmaglen, Gareth O'Neill, said that the duo would be prepared to meet with Down representatives if invited to do so. O'Neill has strong ties with Down and is a cousin of the legendary Sean O'Neill, right half-forward on the Team of the Century.

The 37-year-old works as an executive with the PEI medical distribution company, which entails considerable travel throughout Ireland on a weekly basis.

However, his home in Crossmaglen is only 16 miles from Down's Newry training bases.

In late July, McEntee had dismissed reports linking him to the job soon after James McCartan had stepped down. Back then he said: "County team management is a very demanding role and you need to give it everything. I would wish whoever takes over Down well and I think James McCartan has served his county superbly both as player and as a manager."

However, it appears he has had a change of heart. With Kieran McGeeney taking charge of Armagh for a five-year term, the chances of him managing his own county are gone for the foreseeable future. The appointment of McEntee would also appeal to those that hold Down's traditional values of attractive football dear to their hearts. The return of Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney would make it the perfect week for Down football.

Through his weekly newspaper column, McEntee has had opportunities over the last two summers to showcase his tactical knowledge. In last Saturday's instalment, he went as far as to predict how and why Donegal could beat Dublin, which carried enormous relevance to how the battle unfolded. Equipped with that knowledge base of the modern game and how it is played, McEntee could also bring Seamus McGeown in as physical trainer.

A former International runner with Ireland, McGeown was an important component of Crossmaglen's fitness to play their preferred brand of football under McEntee. While pundit Joe Brolly has often cited Crossmaglen as a team that didn't do weight training, McEntee had the renowned fitness expert Mike McGurn in to draw up weight-training programmes for the players.

Now that the situation appears clearer, a few more pieces could move around the managerial chess board. It's understood that former Monaghan and Meath manager Seamus McEnaney was interested in the Down post, but he is also said to be keen on other postings, having interviewed for the Fermanagh job last year, but then backing out.

Kilcoo manager Jim McCorry was an early front runner too, but his name has also been mentioned in connection with coming into Armagh under Kieran McGeeney in a selector role. As a very young manager, McCorry actually gave McGeeney his debut as an Armagh player, although he and his son Odhran – the physical trainer – would find it difficult to leave Kilcoo, a club that has taken him to their hearts.

Others that were linked to the post at one time, include former Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless and Bryansford manager Frank Dawson.

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