When 2002 Armagh All-Ireland winner Tony McEntee took over as Sligo manager early last year, he little dreamt that he would be leading his side into the Semi-Final of a national competition at Croke Park.
But that’s precisely where the former Crossmaglen Rangers ace will be taking the Yeats County today when they confront Cavan in the last-four of the Tailteann Cup (1.45pm), with Westmeath and Offaly meeting in the other Semi also at Headquarters (4pm).
Sligo may have been regarded as a Cinderella county in the past but now that they are on the verge of a significant trophy, they are being accorded fresh respect.
And no one is more delighted to witness this than McEntee, who has made a huge impact since taking over the reins.
“From the outset of the Tailteann Cup, Cavan were being touted as favourites and we know now the huge challenge that we face,” admits McEntee.
Sligo booked their ticket into the last-four in the most dramatic manner possible with their Quarter-Final game against neighbours Leitrim going to extra-time and then a penalty shoot-out before McEntee could breathe easily.
“Our goalkeeper Aidan Devaney saved a couple of Leitrim’s penalties and that’s what helped to bring us through,” reflects McEntee. “I would have felt we had a number of chances to win the game in normal time but we left a number of scoring opportunities behind us. We certainly cannot afford to do that here or else we will be punished as Cavan will be very hungry to get their hands on this trophy.”
Indeed, McEntee is well aware that Cavan were cast in the role of favourites for the Tailteann Cup before a ball was kicked.
In their most recent outing, the Breffni County beat Fermanagh comfortably and with Gearoid McKiernan, Patrick Lynch, Raymond Galligan, James Smith and Padraig Faulkner leading the way, McEntee accepts that his team will have their work cut out of them.
“We all know how well Cavan played before losing to Donegal in the Ulster Championship and their progress in the Tailteann Cup has boosted their confidence. They will be a big challenge for us, but we will be up for the battle,” pledges McEntee.
Cavan manager Mickey Graham is no less committed.
“I said at the start of the competition that we would view it as another opportunity to assess players and build for the future and that’s the way things have turned out so far. We have been getting an extra helping of competitive action and that is standing to us,” says Graham.