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'It's never far away'

Clontibret boss McEntee making best of time with uncertain future

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STRANGE TIMES: Clontibret manager John McEntee. Pic: Sportsfile

STRANGE TIMES: Clontibret manager John McEntee. Pic: Sportsfile

STRANGE TIMES: Clontibret manager John McEntee. Pic: Sportsfile

Around Clontibret, as the club hosted the first game since they completed work on their new pitch, there were equal amounts of relief and worry.

There was relief that the championship was up and running and that they'd be given the chance to defend their Monaghan title. And worry at the news coming from Kildare, Offaly and Laois, whose championship schedules had been thrown into disarray with the localised lockdowns imposed there.

As one observer pointed out, there are meat factories dotted around Monaghan and the fear is that an outbreak there could bring a halt to the games that everyone had struggled so selflessly to get back up and running.

For the hour's football, there was distraction at least. For 50 minutes, Magheracloone looked like they'd bloody the nose of the county champions and for the last quarter, Clontibret played like the team their manager John McEntee recognised from last year.

Even for a seasoned campaigner like McEntee, this has been a strange season. At one point, he cancelled training for a month during lockdown. At that stage, he reasoned, nothing was better than something.

"It's hard to keep fellas motivated, they are young fellas with other interests. And if you don't have a goal and if you don't have something to aspire to then what are you training for?

"And from a GAA perspective they had nothing, they didn't even know if the championship would go ahead. And then, the reopening again we did a couple of Zoom sessions in the run up to it and it wasn't mandatory. Anyone who wanted to take part well and good and those that didn't didn't.

"So we didn't really start training until we were allowed. And then the first few weeks, it was non-contact, you had to do your social distancing and all that stuff so it was really only to get them back together again.

"And there was good spirit and good buzz and suddenly then you are allowed play football again but you are not prepared, let's be honest about the thing."

There's plenty of permutations but Clontibret's most direct route is to win their remaining games.

"You're hoping the fellas get a bit more confidence and confidence is something you can't buy.

"Winning last year was important, important for the club and important for their development but it carries very little weight the following year.

"You still have to get back to hard work and hard graft and that was our trademark last year. And I suppose in the 40 minutes of that, you could see the boys were far too far off the pace and not putting the effort in that they should have done. But in the last 15 they were exceptional."

With the business of football over, talk soon turned to the very real possibility it could all be brought to a halt once again.

"We don't talk too much about the whole covid thing," McEntee said.

"We are trying just to apply the guidance and best we can and just get on with things. Thankfully this area hasn't been too badly affected. Laois, Offaly and Kildare have been closed down. There's been a big outbreak in East Down, there's been episodes around Newry and South Armagh. So it's never far away and it wouldn't take a lot to close the whole thing down. But whatever happens happens."