‘Battle of Cross’ sees friends collide as Oisín McConville’s Wicklow and Tony McEntee’s Sligo chase Division 4 trophy

Wicklow manager Oisín McConville with his former Crossmaglen and Armagh team-mate and current Sligo manager Tony McEntee.

Michael Verney

The people of Wicklow and Sligo will be out in force for a rare date in Croke Park this evening (5.0) but the folk of Crossmaglen Rangers will also be making their presence felt on what is a huge occasion for the Armagh giants.

They nurtured Oisín McConville and Tony McEntee through the ranks to win club and county All-Ireland titles together, but it may be an even more impressive feat that that pair are now succeeding as inter-county managers.

Not only that, they will both share the sideline at GAA HQ when leading Sligo and Wicklow into battle with Division 4 FL spoils up for grabs, and that alone has Crossmaglen buzzing.

Joe Kernan, who led Armagh to their sole All-Ireland SFC success in 2002, will be one of a large cohort from ‘Cross’ making the trip and he can’t wait to see their interactions.

“Knowing the two of them, Tony is a bit sharp and Oisín isn’t slow at throwing one back, so I’d say there will be a bit of banter. But at the same time, both men will be focused and they’ll not be worrying what the other one is doing,” Kernan says.

“They’ll be focused and respectful to each other and they’ll shake hands before and after. I’ll be watching them closely from the Hogan Stand to see can I get any info to slag them over next week.”

Their duel has created quite the interest within the parish, as former Crossmaglen and Armagh team-mate Paul Hearty outlines.

“Stephen Kernan (son of Joe) got onto me. We’re over the U-16s together, and he said we’ll go down for the craic and make a day of it. There’ll be a huge interest from Cross and the county to see how they get on and there’s a bit of banter,” Hearty says.

“We’ve a wee (WhatsApp) group there for the ’02 team and there’s a bit of banter toing and froing. There’s a good few heading down the road to see what the craic is. It’s mad really, it’s pretty special and we’re really proud of the two boys.”

While county duty takes up their minds today, Kernan stresses that they are Crossmaglen to the core.

“Oisín is with the U-12s and he has a big part to play in the health and wellbeing of the club, we’ve had different nights here and he’s helped so many people with different problems. He had a few himself and it’s fantastic the way he’s turned his own life around,” Kernan says.

“And now he’s helping anybody that needs help. I know people would come to me and say, ‘Have you got Oisín’s number?’ and I would know what the problem is and I’d just give them Oisín’s number.

“Oisín would never tell me anything but the people would always come back and say, ‘Thanks very much, Oisín was a big help to my son, my daughter, my husband’, whatever the case might be. It’s unbelievable the work that he does.”

The pair will be foes when the ball is thrown up at five o’clock but McEntee is normally McConville’s ‘boss’ given that he undertakes the coaching officer role within Cross and keeps the show on the road.

“Tony is the lad that grabs the rest of us by the scruff of the neck and says, ‘Right, you’re coaching these this year’,” Hearty says. “Tony is around the club the whole time, you always see him around the pitch.

“It was just a natural development that they went down the county line, they have that sort of mindset, they’re driven personalities, they’re perfectionists. They love the game and they love to play the game in the right way as well.

“It’s no surprise that they’re managing at county level and they keep the club at heart at the same time and do their best for the club and give a wee bit back. They’re very, very good clubmen and the club will always come first.

“They’d be talking regularly and they’re best mates. We all grew up together, nothing will come between the friendship, but I think for an hour or so that’ll all be put aside and it’ll be all guns blazing.”

Kernan praises both men for the jobs they have done with their adopted counties, with everything else a bonus given that promotion to Division 3 is already secured.

“They’ve done what they set out to do and this is the icing on the cake,” Kernan says.

“This is more of a learning process now in going to Croke Park and seeing how they cope with the hype and the responsibility that comes with that.

“It’s a big step up going to Croke Park, where everyone wants to be, and this is a whole new ball game for the players, and for Oisín and Tony to have the experience up there playing at club and county level is a huge help. They’re not going in blind and they can guide them.”

As for who the locals will be shouting for? “A Cross win, I can’t lose!” Kernan chuckles.

Let the Battle of Cross commence.