FOOTBALL ULSTER SENIOR CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER-FINAL
Crossmaglen (Armagh) v Clontibret (Monaghan)
Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 7pm
CLONTIBRET manager John McEntee has said that he has faced no moral dilemma about going up against his home club Crossmaglen in Saturday’s Ulster quarter-final at the Athletic Grounds.
McEntee enjoyed plenty of success as both a player and manager with the Rangers, but he told Gaelic Life that he has one job to do in Armagh – and that is to try and help the O’Neill’s progress to the semi-finals.
The former Orchard star has previously managed against Cross whilst manager of their neighbours Culloville, but this will be the first time facing them in the championship arena.
“I managed Culloville against Crossmaglen, but not in the championship,” said McEntee.
“We won the Intermediate Championship and played senior the following year but Cullyhanna beat us in the quarter-final. We never got facing Cross in the championship.
“I look at this as a win-win situation. Obviously I wanted Cross to win the Armagh title and they did and it was a great achievement for us to do likewise in Clontibret. For me it’s not a pressure situation.”
McEntee believes his situation is significantly different from that of Ronan McGuckin who hit the headlines back in 2012. His Errigal Ciaran side were pitted against his home club Ballinderry and he opted to stand down for the day having told the Tyrone club on his appointment that he would not manage against the Shamrocks should the situation arise.
“At the time Ballinderry and Errigal were playing there was a big call made and I think he was right,”
McEntee said of McGuckin’s decision.
“He’d only come out of club football and was very close to those young fellas, there was still a lot of loyalty there and he probably made the right decision at the time.
“I’m in a very different place, I’ve quit playing football 10 years or more now. I spent time managing my own club and I suppose I just moved on. That’s fine, that happens.
“I’ve never had to do this before, so it is a huge challenge. That’s more because they have amazing ability.
Aaron Kernan, Tony Kernan, Kyle Carragher and these boys are exceptional footballers.
“Aside from addressing the emotional challenge of it, there’s the very fact that you have to try and nullify their influence on the game. I’ll spend more time on that rather than the fact that I am playing my own club.
“I’ll not be worrying about who I am playing, it will be about trying to help my team win. That’s the job I have to do.”
The sides have met twice previously in the Ulster Championship and on both occasions Crossmaglen have enjoyed one-point victories.
In the 2006 semi-final at Kingspan Breffni, McEntee was Cross’s standout player while Johnny Hanratty scored the crucial goal in a 1-9 to 0-11 win.
They met in the quarter-final at Clones the following November and again Cross would edge through, but the game is more remembered for the unfortunate scenes after the final whistle following a stormy hour’s football.
Dessie Mone, now one of McEntee’s on-field generals, remembers being put in his place by his current boss in the first of those meetings.
“The memories I have of those games is the cracking point he scored off me in Breffni along the 45- metre line near the dug-outs,” said Mone, who won his seventh Monaghan medal with their county final win over Scotstown.
“I was tracking him and I said ‘you’re not going to kick that over’ and straight over it went, against the wind too.
“That’s the first thing I reminded him of when he came in to our club. John is a competitor and he is loyal to his club, but he is a winner.”
Mone knows the provincial road well having been down it so many times. There may be no Ulster medal in the back pocket but it’s a competition he loves playing in.
“Listen, you have to enjoy days like this,” he said. “You have these days on the road and it’s great to get the opportunity again.
“You’re coming up against the best teams in Ulster and you get to pitch yourself against them and see how you get on.
“Cross are one of the most competitive teams, of course, and they have a lot of young lads going well.
“I have first cousins in Ballymacnab (the Gribbens) and when they went six up in the Armagh final I was thinking I might get a rattle at them, but you have to give Cross credit for coming back. There’s a reason they can keep doing that.”
McEntee, however, has demanded that his players look deep inside themselves and ask why they haven’t come out on top in Ulster or even made a final.
It’s a 20-minute drive between the two clubs but there’s a gap of 11 Ulster titles. McEntee can see the same level of talent in Clontibret as his own club so he wants the players to address why it hasn’t happened for them before.
“It’s a very different competition for different clubs,” said McEntee.
“You have teams that go into it and very easily they can switch a flick and concentrate on Ulster, Cross are certainly one of those teams.
“They will prepare for the Ulster Championship in the same way they prepare for a county championship, they want to win every game. Other teams approach it from a bonus territory perspective.
“Clontibret have to really commit to it. They have had seven county titles in the last 15, 16 years. The likes of Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone have seven titles under their belts but no Ulsters.
“You’re going to soon run out of opportunities. It’s incumbent on them to try and do their best in Ulster, certainly they should be attempting to put their best foot forward.
“If it’s good enough it’s good enough, if it’s not then you can at least satisfy yourself with the fact that you did your best.
“My thinking on it would be if you go in to another campaign and you’re not committed, you may as well not turn up and just stay on the beer.
“I don’t think that’s the attitude of these boys and I think they will approach it in the right manner, and that’s to respect Cross and the competition as much as anything.”