Sligo manager, Tony McEntee, pictured with the Tailteann Cup at Croke Park.
Sligo manager, Tony McEntee, pictured with the Tailteann Cup at Croke Park. 

McEntee hails positive impact of Tailteann Cup on Sligo's young guns


By John Harrington

Sligo’s journey to today’s Tailteann Cup semi-final has been about as dramatic as possible.

They required extra-time to beat London in the first round and then extra-time and penalties to get past Leitrim in the quarter-final.

Triumphing in those circumstances can only do wonders for the morale of a team, so it’s no surprise to hear manager Tony McEntee speak glowingly about the competition.

“It has been a very positive experience,” he says of the Tailteann Cup. “We addressed the players following the championship, because at that stage we as a management team were saying ‘we need to go after this Tailteann Cup.’

“So we thought if we do this but the players aren’t on board then it won’t make much sense. So we had a meeting with the players, and to a man they were all in for it.

“This is different from the likes of, some players in Down at the start had some issues about joining the Tailteann Cup, but they have memories of 91 and 94, and maybe better times in Ulster. Sligo doesn’t have those memories.

“Niall Murphy, who had only 15 championship appearances before this year, has very little experience at championship level too.

“So this was an opportunity to vastly improve our experience and this year. I think we have had four or five games in championship, which is already a third of what Niall Murphy would have had before that. We approached it very positively from the outset and even yet the players have very much bought into it.”

Sligo GAA have put a lot of work into their underage structures in recent years and the county’s secondary schools have also had some notable successes so a talented generation of young footballers are now making their way into the senior inter-county set-up.

Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney is congratulated after saving two penalties in a penalty shoot out by team mates in the Tailteann Cup Quarter-Final match between Leitrim and Sligo at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. 
Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney is congratulated after saving two penalties in a penalty shoot out by team mates in the Tailteann Cup Quarter-Final match between Leitrim and Sligo at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. 

The benefit to them of playing championship matches at the height of the summer is enormous, so much so that McEntee has seen them grow as players before his eyes in the last few weeks.

“You can, yeah,” he said. “There are two points I’d make on that. One, the league format for me is not good because you play it in January and February in storms, and I think it’s all but hopeless in all honesty. I think we should be playing the football much later in the year.

“I think any football at this time of the year is much more positive. It’s also obviously the case that the better teams playing later in the year progress more, they get more training, more games, better football, better conditions, whereas for the likes of us in years gone by we would have been long out of the competition and continued to fail, I suppose.

“So this has given us an opportunity to progress. Our team is very young, for the most part they are very young - they are in their early twenties with very little experience, so every opportunity to play a game in championship is positive for them.”

The character shown by the Sligo players so far in the Tailteann Cup is perhaps all the more impressive considering they’ve come through one of the most difficult periods of their lives – the tragic death of team-mate Red Óg Murphy which still casts a shadow.

“I think it’s still there,” says McEntee. “The initial shock obviously and the initial disruption from it, we obviously had a number of counselling sessions and the players had individual counselling sessions.

“I think the impact, obviously apart from the immediate impact, is still there on a few of the players. Realistically, I don’t know if that will be something that will raise its head once Sligo is over this year because at the minute the players are in that wee comfort bubble of having each other for support and that.

“When the season is over and they go back to themselves, will that rear its head again? I think it probably will. There are a couple of them still receiving counselling from that, which I think is good and positive and should be encouraged. I just hope that continues when the season is over.”