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Border is no barrier to GAA clubs with ambitions of success

 

By John Campbell

Amid speculation over the possibility of a 'soft' or a 'hard' border as the Brexit negotiations rumble on, the GAA landscape on the Armagh-Monaghan frontier is quietly undergoing a subtle transformation irrespective of the happenings in Brussels, London or Dublin.

Time was when it was deemed anathema that a team manager at any level might have strayed beyond his parish boundary.

But that of course has all changed - and how.

No longer is it the prerogative of county teams to engage the services of 'outside' managers - Seamus McEnaney (Wexford), Peter McGrath (Fermanagh) and Mattie McGleenan (Cavan) were cases in point this year - but clubs are now targeting individuals whom they believe can lead them into a sporting paradise.

And nowhere has the pace of the managerial merry-go-round quickened to the extent that it has currently reached in Farney and Orchard County territories.

Armagh All-Ireland winner and former Crossmaglen Rangers boss John McEntee has just been appointed as the new manager of Clontibret, ex-Monaghan boss Eamon McEneaney has been installed as team boss of St Patrick's Cullyhanna, and Mick O'Dowd has ventured further into the northern region by taking over the reins of Clonoe.

Nor does the tranche of changes end there. Ex-Down player Stephen Kearney has thrown in his lot with the Whitecross club, Justin McNulty has saddled up with Killeavy and Finian Moriarty is understood to now be at the helm of operations at the Wolfe Tones club in Derrymacash.

With former Monaghan ace Bernie Murray set to become Lenny Harbinson's successor at Ballymacnab, and with other club appointments understood to be in the pipeline, the sound of Monaghan accents in the Orchard County and vice versa could yet reach a deafening crescendo - but that's perhaps carrying things a little too far.

Certainly, Clontibret club secretary Frank McManus, father of Monaghan sharpshooter and Ireland International Rules player Conor, welcomes the changes and predicts that the new faces show will prove a hit with fans.

"Club football is extremely healthy, and we in Clontibret are certainly delighted to have John McEntee on board," states McManus snr. "He has a proven track record as a player and as a manager."

McEntee completed a two-year term in charge of Crossmaglen Rangers in 2015 and is now relishing the challenge of working with a Clontibret side that holds rich promise.

His brother Tony has committed to another year with Mayo, where manager Stephen Rochford is hoping to take the side to a much yearned for All-Ireland title in 2018.

Meanwhile, the arrival of Stephen Kearney has fired aspirations within the Whitecross club, which is keen to challenge Armagh's big guns in both league and championship.

Schoolteacher Kearney, who hails from Saval, faces a huge task, but club officials are promising him strong support.

"Crossmaglen Rangers, Maghery and Harps have been dominant in Armagh over recent years, so the opposition we will be facing is tough, but there is a spirit within the club that is extremely encouraging," says club official Claire Shields.

"When you see the manner in which other clubs are focussing on putting strong management teams together you know you just have to take a leaf from their book in the hope of making progress."

It will be an intriguing season.

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