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'Andy told us we should think bigger'

Meath boss McEntee forged strong relationships in successful three-year stint with Ballyboden

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ROYAL COMMAND: Meath manager Andy McEntee. Photo: Sportsfile

ROYAL COMMAND: Meath manager Andy McEntee. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

ROYAL COMMAND: Meath manager Andy McEntee. Photo: Sportsfile

It was in early May 2014, when Andy McEntee convened his first meeting of the Ballyboden St Enda's players, over whom he just taken charge, and wasted no time or energy in being indirect about where he felt they should be.

A club of Ballyboden's size, McEntee informed the room sternly, should be winning All-Ireland titles.

His appraisal wasn't widely-shared at the time. Certainly not on the Dublin club scene, where Ballyboden had won just two county championships in their entire history.

Nor, as Darragh Nelson recalls, even among the occupants of the room that evening.

"But he sort of convinced us that we should be competing at that level," admits Nelson, who McEntee identified as possessing captaincy material.

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FAMOUS DAY: Ballyboden St Enda’s manager Andy McEntee with captain Darragh Nelson after the All-Ireland Club SFC Final win over Castlebar Mitchels in March 2016. Pic: Sportsfile

FAMOUS DAY: Ballyboden St Enda’s manager Andy McEntee with captain Darragh Nelson after the All-Ireland Club SFC Final win over Castlebar Mitchels in March 2016. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FAMOUS DAY: Ballyboden St Enda’s manager Andy McEntee with captain Darragh Nelson after the All-Ireland Club SFC Final win over Castlebar Mitchels in March 2016. Pic: Sportsfile

"That's where it kicked off for me. I'll always remember that first meeting. That said it all for me."

McEntee was a stranger to almost everyone there.

He had taken the Meath minors to an All-Ireland final in 2012, where they lost to a Dessie Farrell-managed Dublin team.

Prophecy

He had no direct connection to Ballyboden St Enda's or, it's probably fair to say, any deep affection for Dublin football.

Yet for Nelson, who played on the Dublin minor team in 2008 that was managed by his brother, Gerry McEntee, none of this was an issue.

"I knew Andy wouldn't be too dissimilar," he stresses. "The McEntees…they're just a really strong Meath football family. Whatever they're involved in, they'll go at it one hundred per cent".

To say the relationship blossomed over the next three years, culminating in 'Boden fulfilling McEntee's prophecy on St Patrick's Day 2016, is an understatement.

Despite their parting of ways later that year, McEntee remains in close contact with many of the squad.

He has been a guest at some of their weddings and still attends many of the team's matches.

Before last year's Leinster SFC final, he was asked about the insight gained from three years with the Firhouse club.

"Contrary to most of the beliefs that I would have had before I went to Ballyboden," he smiled, "they're pretty decent fellas".

Nelson isn't sure quite why they hit it off so well, other than the obvious bonding over shared ambition. In 'Boden, McEntee saw a big club with enormous, largely uncultivated potential.

And in McEntee, Ballyboden recruited a manager whose articulation of his lofty ambitions resonated deeply.

"He's obviously a passionate man," Nelson says.

"And when someone like that comes into the circle, you can feed off that really quickly.

"You get that belief when he says something that you can do it. It's hard to put your finger on why some managers have that and some don't. But he definitely has it".

Their journey to that All-Ireland wasn't without its internal challenges.

Five of his match-day squad for the 2015 county final had trained exclusively with the Ballyboden hurlers that summer and had no shared intention on playing club football at all that year.

McEntee, not a noted hurling enthusiast, persisted in bringing them into his squad after the hurlers were knocked out, despite potentially risking alienating some who had trained and played all year.

His management of Paul Durcan's over-and-back arrangement from Qatar was also astutely done.

The Donegal goalkeeper is a cousin of Ballyboden defender Robbie McDaid and having initially moved expecting to spend the majority of his time in Dublin, a change in job saw him migrate to the middle east.

Significant

In all, Durcan trained just twice with Ballyboden but his contribution to their success was significant.

"We had such a mix of players who had played at a really high level, be it the hurlers with Dublin or Paul Durcan with Donegal or the lads who had played football for Dublin", Nelson explains.

"It was key to have that balance of experience playing at that level. And I think he recognised the importance of that, of having those characters all aboard the team".

Like most of the squad, Nelson had never worn a pair of boxing gloves before McEntee introduced Billy Walsh to group and made sparring a frequent part of their preparations. John Coughlan came in as a strength and conditioning coach, but with a different, more athletics-based, take on the role.

For a club side, these pursuits were new and completely fresh and revealed a methodical side to McEntee, a managerial acumen that complemented his natural zealousness.

"Andy had that passion. But he would have brought GPS into our preparation. He would have introduced video analysis - which was new to us at club level," Nelson says.

"He was very aware of what teams were doing around the country. And he wanted the same standards brought in for this team.

"So when you have that sort of progressive thinking mixed with the sort of passion Andy has for the game and whatever team he's managing, it's a serious mixture."