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Cross pollination: McConville detects McEntee’s influence on Mayo

Crossmaglen man part of the management team that reignited the All-Ireland finalists

Oisín McConville is careful about he puts this. The multiple All-Ireland club medallist and leading light on the Armagh team that took Sam Maguire home for the first time 15 seasons ago is asked about the Crossmaglen influence on this year's All-Ireland final.

For the past two years his old club-mate and former manager Tony McEntee has been part of Stephen Rochford's Mayo management team and, without going overboard, McConville thinks he detects evidence of that in how the Connacht county has been conducting its business.

"He has his ideas about how his team should play," according to McConville, who attended Thursday's GAA launch of the National Concussion Symposium.  "Obviously Stephen Rochford is the manager so at the end of the day he decides what way they play etc. I think you can see his stamp come over the team in the last number of years and particularly in the last six months. That's what he's want me to say anyway!

“They’ve improved with every game you’d have to say and they seem to be learning a lot.”


And the idea to play All Star centrefielder Aidan O’Shea at full back?

“Was it his idea to play him full-back? It wouldn’t be unlike Tony’s idea but there had to be some joined-up thinking from the whole management team. It wasn’t a complete disaster if you look at the fact that they got over the line but I don’t think he’ll be playing there again somehow.

“I think they’ll play him centre forward and get him to play in a similar role behind the midfield and do whatever damage he can do from there. That’ll fit into what Dublin are doing as well with [Cian] O’Sullivan going back to play as a sweeper, so that’s probably where they’ll play him.

“But they’ll probably play him [in] a deeper role than they’ve ever played him. He seems to pick up a lot of ball and he looks like he’s happy enough to do that job and play there. That’s probably what he’ll end up doing.”

He believes Mayo are the best equipped side to take on the champions, Dublin in what will be a rerun of last year’s replayed final that went all the way to the final whistle before Dublin won by one point. Such is the anticipation before the final that McConville says the football final might for the first time in a while upstage its small-ball equivalent.

Best position

“I think this All-Ireland final can eclipse the hurling for the first year in a long time because I can’t see how this could be a poor game. I really can’t. Mayo are in the best position they’ve been in a long time – as long as they don’t overthink it!

“If they play with the energy they’ve been playing with, it should make for an awesome All-Ireland final. They have an opportunity to win it, definitely have a chance. They’re the only team that can match Dublin physically and athletically, and that makes a hell of a difference.”

He acknowledges that Mayo will be up against it all the same and when asked about the recently retired Tyrone captain Seán Cavanagh's opinion that Dublin are the best football side he's ever seen, McConville adds an endorsement from his own family.

“It’s a popular thing to say at the minute because they are the team we’re watching right now and they are awesome. How they dispensed with Tyrone in the first 20 minutes – I was just sitting back enjoying it. My wee man – he’s only five and football nuts – whenever I say I’m going to a Dublin game he wants to go.

"If I tell him I'm going to an Ulster championship match, maybe even Armagh, he'll take it or leave it. If he wants to see football, he'll go to the Dublin match. That's the way people are. That's why there's a scramble from all over the country to go and see this game.

“Mayo and Dublin have that power, that pace; they can execute those tackles when they get there. That’s what makes it so difficult for other teams to play against.”

He turned down the opportunity to manage Donegal when an offer was made to nominate him for the position, which became vacant when Rory Gallagher stepped down in July and reiterates that he would be interested in the job in his own county provided there was a vacancy – incumbent Kieran McGeeney is in the middle of a five-year term – and he had picked up greater coaching experience.

Armagh’s conquerors, Ulster champions Tyrone, met a dusty fate themselves when losing heavily to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final. McConville says Tyrone’s game is no longer effective when the championship heats up.

“When we seem to get to the bigger games, to Croke Park, that’s when it’s more difficult to play that defensive system. I think it’s easier to play it at provincial venues, where we’re used to seeing that, where it’s tighter and if both teams are playing the same way, which is normally what happens, both teams match up.

“When Tyrone came up here against Dublin everybody was expecting them to put it up to Dublin, even to frustrate them for a while, but they couldn’t even manage that. The game was over after 10 or 15 minutes effectively. Ulster football isn’t in a great place.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times