Tony McEntee and the Crossmaglen Rangers team before the 2012 Armagh SFC Final.
Tony McEntee and the Crossmaglen Rangers team before the 2012 Armagh SFC Final. 

Crossmaglen Rangers represented at Croke Park on Saturday

By Cian O’Connell

In Crossmaglen Rangers a burning passion for Gaelic Football endures. On Saturday at GAA headquarters the Allianz Football League Division Four Final will feature decorated Crossmaglen figures in charge of Wicklow and Sligo.

Unsurprisingly Oisín McConville and Tony McEntee are both making an impact in the inter-county arena. Promotion has been secured. Now an opportunity exists to capture silverware at Croke Park. That is something their former Cross and Armagh manager Joe Kernan was able to accomplish.

So Kernan will be an interested observer at the weekend. Kernan acknowledges that in a gifted team there was always a thirst for knowledge during Crossmaglen’s salad years. “There certainly was,” Kernan reflects.

“At that time I'd probably put Tony McEntee a little bit ahead of Oisín, but over the last number of years watching Oisín working with the club, and listening to him on TV he has turned out to be great and knowledgeable.

“That is what you have to be when you're a pundit, letting the people know and the experiences you had. Tony Mc sort of proved himself a bit earlier with managing the club, he did a great job winning two All-Irelands, then he was with Mayo.”

Kernan highlights that McConville and McEntee were instinctively accomplished footballers. “In their playing days they were boys you actually didn't have to say too much to,” Kernan adds.

“There was a natural instinct in both of them. Oisín proved himself year after year as one of the best forwards in Ireland, while Tony Mc was Mr Versatility.

“You could play Tony anywhere which was maybe a bit to his downfall that he was a sticking plaster to play full back, centre half back, midfield or in the forward line. Two very knowledgeable boys and I'm delighted for the two of them.

“When you go into management - in my time it was bad - but now it is even worse with all the armchair critics that are there to have a go. So I'm delighted that the two of them have done well so far this year, but it is going to be interesting watching the two of them on Saturday.”

Joe Kernan celebrates following Crossmaglen Rangers' AIB All-Ireland Club success in 1999.
Joe Kernan celebrates following Crossmaglen Rangers' AIB All-Ireland Club success in 1999.

During his own managerial career Kernan sought to learn from others, frequently inviting distinguished sporting figures to talk to the Crossmaglen and Armagh panels.

“I was lucky enough to play for Armagh for 17 years,” Kernan says. “While we had some success you always looked to the great teams and the great players.

“I was lucky enough during my playing career and early in management that I always had good friends in the Seán Boylans, the Martin McHughs, the Mick O'Dwyers, the Brian Codys.

“The funny thing is when you sit down to talk to them they don't be doing much different than you'd be doing yourself. Then to take these colossal men in, who are winners of the biggest prizes in our games and they tell their stories, how success came to them.”

When the guests were speaking Kernan monitored how players reacted. “I used to love watching my players,” Kernan states.

“Sometimes I've seen in dressing rooms before, people would be talking, the boys would be looking at the roof or scratching their heads or looking at the ground.

“Some weren't always focused or listening. I remember one of the first people I took in was Colm O'Rourke, I was at the front of the room, I wasn't watching Colm, I was listening to him, but I was watching my players. Every player was totally focused on every word that he spoke.

“To me if they are good enough to come in and our boys are good enough to listen it certainly can only help a team. I always enjoyed doing it because I learned something everyday, the players certainly learned.”

McConville and McEntee occupied central roles during a thrilling era for club and county. Undoubtedly nuggets of information were collected for future use. Kernan is encouraged that Wicklow and Sligo have both realised their initial 2023 objective.

Wicklow senior football manager Oisín McConville.
Wicklow senior football manager Oisín McConville.

“They have done the first bit, they have got a squad that are working with them and listening to them,” Kernan replies. “They are after coming through a campaign, all of these leagues, especially Division Four, it was so tight.

“Five teams could have went up - the closeness in it. That means they had to win games that were close and tight. They had to win them in the end.”

Remaining cool and clinical when matches were delicately poised was vital for Crossmaglen. “That was something we always did with Cross, we won games that were tight - that last five minutes,” Kernan recalls.

“You can play bad all day we used to say and still win in the end. Some teams that were leading might play a bit safe when they were ahead and think they will hold out, but we used to always say if you play safe you lose.

“The boys have won games this year late, coming from the Sligo game, they were coasting, the next thing Leitrim get back and they were good enough to get back. They are after coming through that phase, now it is being on the big stage. Some people can freeze and some people can cope with it.

“This is the next step to be at the place every player in Ireland wants to be. There will be no motivating, it will be more keep the feet on the ground, stick to what we are doing.

“This is a new phase for the boys to teach the players during this coming week and I'm certainly looking forward to it.”

What McConville and McEntee are beginning to achieve at the highest level is a source of pride in Crossmaglen. “It is unbelievable, there will be people from Cross going to watch this match without a doubt,” Kernan says.

“While they will want both of them to be successful and to do well, this is one day when the tent is going to be split and somebody is going to be disappointed. The fact that they both got promotion -we are all very proud of the two of them.”