Enda McGinley relishing the reawakening of ‘sleeping giant’ Antrim

Having secured promotion, manager knows championship will bring new challenges

Antrim’s manager Enda McGinley: Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Antrim’s manager Enda McGinley: Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

That Enda McGinley knew what he was letting himself in for is beyond dispute. Antrim football – he himself laughs at the “sleeping giant” cliche – has an almost mythical potential with the big urban population centre of Belfast.

The city is now earnestly engaged on the ambitious Gaelfast development project and, 11 years ago, franked its football status when St Gall’s won the All-Ireland club football championship.

McGinley, three times an All-Ireland winner with Tyrone as a forward-cum-centrefielder with energy and vision, had been a clubmate of county manager Mickey Harte in Errigal Ciarán.

He was making his post-career name as a pundit when the chance to match practice to theory arose. Undeterred by the serial failure to make an impact and the grasshopper loyalties of the players, he had a clear-eyed view because he was by now living among them.

“In terms of the standing in Antrim or that, that didn’t worry me at all. I suppose I’m married into the county up there and have been about club football in Antrim for good-on 18 years nearly at this stage, so I’ve a fairly decent idea of the level of club football up there.

“I’ve watched the county team obviously closely for a number of years and, again, they’ve punched well sometimes and then at other times they do seem to dip down. I think the previous three years they were very close to promotion so you sort of knew something was there and that end of it didn’t worry me at all.”

Complicating life was that the McCanns, Mick and Tomás, two of the higher-profile footballers, are his brothers-in-law. His courtship with their sister began as a 20-year-old, eager to impress when Tomás, then 14, “chucked a mandarin at me”. Having survived this orange protest, he and Geraldine later married.

Sparingly

He consulted Mick before taking on the position, but has been able to use Tomás only sparingly and Mick not all because of injury. “It would have been lovely to have them available but it’s been nice working with them.”

Fine lines: for three years Antrim had finished third in Division Four, just outside the promotion frame. This year, with the league regionalised and abbreviated, the county topped its northern section with spectacular economy, three wins by one point and top of the table with six points and a scoring difference of plus-three.

More importantly, they defeated Waterford in the promotion play-off and will move to Division Three next year – coincidentally along with his old mentor Mickey Harte’s Louth.

His main hindrance was that the short fixture schedule was inadequate for the task of giving everyone in his 34-man panel a “fair crack of the whip”.

He’s a supporter of the proposed Tier 2 Tailteann Cup, a point of view by no means unanimously held among his peers in the lower division as a means to an end.

“In terms of progression, in terms of trying to bridge the gap, I think giving people steps is much better than just having a blank wall and somehow they have to magically reach a higher level. It works really well in the league.”

Enda McGinley playing for Tyrone in the 2008 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Enda McGinley playing for Tyrone in the 2008 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

He is wary, though, of how it might be structured, riffing quickly through the ins and outs of proposed championship reforms and expressing concern that once qualification for the Tailteann Cup is too obviously through a trapdoor, “it’s a losers’ cup at that stage”.

“I think it has to be properly run to be something that’s worth the ambition and efforts of the players and if it does, then it can become something decent in its own right.”

One slip

Old school championship beckons – one slip and you’re gone. Curiously they have drawn the one county they have never played in the Ulster championship this century, Armagh, who they face in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.

In 2003 they did meet in the All-Ireland qualifiers and, under the captaincy of current manager Kieran McGeeney, Armagh – the then All-Ireland champions, a title McGinley and Tyrone would take off them in that year’s final – won but not by much, 0-15 to 0-12.

The business of the season is essentially done, having secured promotion.

“So the championship then becomes a new challenge,” says McGinley. “It becomes a challenge to test ourselves against a completely different level of team that’s going to ask us completely different questions and expose us to very different stresses than what we’ve seen at Division Four. So it’s a huge challenge.”

Armagh survived in Division One this season and have been improving over the last couple of years. He answers a question as to whether this is effectively a free hit with circumlocutory flair, but does conclude: “Yes, to a certain extent it is a free hit but, like, it’s championship football and we have no intention of going out and making up the numbers and just letting Armagh go on ahead into their semi-final with a bit of a light workout.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.