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Thursday 14 December 2017

Keaney: McEntee always cut out for top office

Meath boss "pulled all the bits together" to lead Ballyboden to their 2016 All-Ireland success

Meath manager Andy McEntee celebrates the Royals’ Allianz FL Division 2 victory over Galway last March in Páirc Tailteann, Navan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Meath manager Andy McEntee celebrates the Royals’ Allianz FL Division 2 victory over Galway last March in Páirc Tailteann, Navan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It might have come across as a wisecrack about the plight of Meath football but Conal Keaney intended it more to ward off the inevitable suitors to someone he described as "one of the best managers I've ever had".

Keaney stood in the tunnel under the Hogan Stand in Croke Park, reflecting on Ballyboden's 2016 All-Ireland club win, his first senior All-Ireland and a most unexpected one for him, all things considered.

Asked about the suitability of Andy McEntee to inter-county management, Keaney smiled: "I'm sure he'd make a great manager . . . but I think Meath are doing all right at the minute…"

They weren't.

Meath were in the midst of another indifferent, uninspiring season that included a seemingly annual struggle in Division 2 and the habitual hammering by Dublin, finishing up in Dungiven, away from prying eyes.

Andy McEntee speaks to his Ballyboden St Enda’s side before the 2015 Dublin SFC final against St Vincent’s in Parnell Park. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
Andy McEntee speaks to his Ballyboden St Enda’s side before the 2015 Dublin SFC final against St Vincent’s in Parnell Park. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

Experience

McEntee's success with Ballyboden St Enda's, his experience with the Meath minors and his obvious attraction to the post vacated by Mick O'Dowd that day (following SFC Qualifer defeat to Derry in Dungiven) made his appointment inevitable.

McEntee's gig then, is a reconstruction job.

"What he brought to us was, he was super organised. His man-management skills were unbelievable," says Keaney. "Always on the phone to every single player on the squad, be it the most important player or the fella on the fringes.

"He makes everyone feel the same and feel special. Which is probably one of his better traits, because most managers don't do that."

Keaney got a very early introduction to the pragamatism in McEntee's methods.

Along with Stephen Hiney, Shane Durkin, David 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan and Simon Lambert, Keaney trained exclusively with the Ballyboden hurlers in the summer/autumn of 2015 and hadn't initially intended on playing club football that season.

"He said 'I know you're all really passionate about the hurling, but I still want you to play football," Keaney explains. "If that means I don't see you or you only come to one or two games all year, that's fine. But once the hurling is finished, I want you to commit to it.

"He had a very simple philosophy. He said he wanted to win. Which meant having the best team and playing the best team every single day of the week."

If keeping the peace with those 'Boden footballers who put in the hard yards while the hurlers were hurling, his management of Paul Durcan's over-and-back arrangement from Qatar proved vital.

"He maybe trained with us twice in the whole year," Keaney recalls. "But if he produced the goods on the day, that's the most important thing. Whether you're there at training every night of the week or you're not. He wanted to pick his best team every day of the week."

As it went, Ballyboden were outsiders for the All-Ireland club final against a Castlebar Mitchels team with far more experience of such occasions yet were blown apart by McEntee's team.

" He had it broken down for every player what they were going to do," says Keaney.

"What way they would react after they get scores or if they conceded early scores.

"The big thing for us, was we got them to a big, hard, open pitch. We were going to run at them from everywhere. We were going to attack and we were going to go for goals early on. That's what we did and they couldn't take it."

How much of'Boden's success was attributable to McEntee is open to interpretation and as Keaney points out "we did have a good mix of players".

He adds, however: "He brought it all together. There was no hurlers versus footballers. Even though Andy is a pure football man - in fact he doesn't like hurling.

"But he understood you need your best player if you're going to win. So his philosophy was 'I don't care who you are,' if you're good enough you're going to play.

"An awful lot was down to the management."

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