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McEntee hails his boys' never say die spirit

By Declan Bogue

Published 16/11/2015

Man on: Kilcoo's Stephan Kane is closed down by Crossmaglen Rangers' scorer Oisin O'Neill
Man on: Kilcoo's Stephan Kane is closed down by Crossmaglen Rangers' scorer Oisin O'Neill

John McEntee peers out of his hoodie and gives one of his typically, matter-of-fact assessments of his players. This time, it is robust midfielder Johnny Hanratty who is getting the treatment.

"John is a slogger, he puts in a good work-rate," the Cross joint-manager begins.

"He has a lot of the skills too that people probably don't give him the credit for. He epitomises that never say die attitude.

"He just keeps working, he's a great lad. I suppose he's carried a bit of beef all year and is probably still carrying a bit. In this weather, it stands to him."

If Hanratty has relaxed and spent a little too much time at the table, then we can all wish our own indulgences were so easy to hide. In Ulster club semi-finals, you need character, a cool head, and the ability to bully people in your own patch. He has all that and more. The temptation is to ask how Cross have managed things differently this year. Last year they were seen off by Omagh and the year before that bowed out against Kilcoo.

As ever, McEntee simplifies things.

"We just kept working, put the head down and worked hard all year. The funny thing about Ulster is that you need luck and in many ways we had a rub of the green.

"It's not much different today. The Cargin match, before we scored our goal they got two goal chances. Had either gone in we would have been in dire straits. I wouldn't say we're any better than last year. We're just fortunate to get that step further," he adds.

"We just kept our composure. We knew they were going to bring serious intensity and we sort of figured that you can only keep that up for so long because our boys move well and work hard. At some stage, who is going to burn out quickest here? And we knew that it would be a tight game at half-time and we were hoping we would maintain that momentum and correct the mistakes. A lot of balls spilled over the sideline and the inside line was too cluttered.

"There were too many men back so we weren't getting opportunities. So it was a simple correction. At half-time we vowed to keep up that intensity and theirs faded a bit. That first score was a cracker by Oisin O'Neill. Had that not gone over, who knows?"

No point wondering, really.

The minds of McEntee and his partner in management, Oisin McConville, now turns to Scotstown, who endured some difficulty against Trillick's system in the other semi-final.

Both teams are likely to keep this game in the traditional mould, with McEntee already forewarned about the qualities the Hughes brothers and others will bring on November 29.

"They're a quality side, some serious footballers in key positions. I did a coaching spell down in Castleblayney a number of years ago and I could see the strength in depth that was there in Scotstown at the time. No surprise to see them in an Ulster final."

Nor none to see Cross back.

Belfast Telegraph

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