McEntee has tunnel vision going into Páirc Esler cauldron

Underdogs Antrim head to Down for Ulster quarter-final with a fighting chance based on last visit to Newry

Dublin versus Meath game week and all the old memories come flooding back for Andy McEntee.

He’s thinking about Mick Lyons and the abuse the grizzled Meath full-back used to take from Dublin fans behind him on Hill 16.

“When the Hill were calling him a w****r, he used to say to us, ‘That’s a real compliment because it means you’re bothering them’,” recalled McEntee.

If he had a mind to, McEntee could probably pull a highlights, and lowlights, reel together in double quick time from the last 50 years of Meath-Dublin clashes.


He was involved in enough of them, to some extent. Whether it was his brother, Gerry, lording it at midfield against the old enemy, being part of Meath panels himself, or in more recent years managing Meath minor and senior teams against the Dubs, he has seen it all.

McEntee hasn’t thought much about this week’s latest instalment though. He’ll watch Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final at Croke Park for sure but he’s in Antrim’s corner now and has a tunnel vision on Saturday’s Ulster quarter-final clash with Down.

Like Meath, Antrim will go in as significant underdogs but, unlike the Royal County, it’s not entirely fanciful to think they could win, even in Newry.

“The league game we played last year, it was probably the game of the season,” said McEntee, referencing Down’s onepoint win in Newry. “If you were an outsider looking in at that one, you’d say Gaelic football is in a very healthy place. You wouldn’t say that about the corresponding game up in Corrigan Park this year. It was ugly enough at times but some games take on their own meaning and everybody has plans until they get punched on the nose.”

Antrim left with the bloodied nose that afternoon. Down went on to secure promotion to Division Two whilst Antrim battled at the other end of the table, ultimately avoiding relegation by beating Wicklow in the final round.

With a particularly young team – “I think we had 12 newcomers to National League football during the course of the campaign” – staying in Division Three was a victory in itself. But the Saffrons have quality too. Big Ruairi McCann from the St Mary’s club won a Tailteann Cup All-Star last year. Marc Jordan wasn’t far off collecting one either while Mick Byrne is their safe hands in goals. McEntee rates young Conor Hand, who came on early in the Wicklow game, as an “athlete” with vast potential, one of many. The Nobber native is optimistic about what can be achieved long-term.

“When I was approached about the job, I looked at it and I thought the biggest asset that any county has is people,” said McEntee, who was appointed Antrim manager in July 2022, a month after ending his six-year reign with Meath.

“Alright, not everyone in Antrim plays Gaelic football but if you even half their [population], you’ve still got a population of 330,000. The population of Meath is 220,000, so that was a big influencer.”

A win over Down would be a huge endorsement of McEntee’s time in charge and the work they’ve all put in. If it doesn’t happen, he’ll continue to embrace the struggle.

“Sport itself isn’t fair,” he shrugged. “You get kicked in the teeth more often than you get slapped on the back.”