Sunday 18 February 2018

Williams makes mark after emotional switch

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LEAVING Longford wasn't easy for Enda Williams, but he knew he had to make a move.

Out of favour and hitting his peak, the 27-year-old turned his back on a lifetime involvement and crossed the border to Leitrim, the land of his late father and the place of his birth.

The inter-county transfer has been a much-debated matter this summer, but Williams kept his quiet and moved below the radar.

As Seanie Johnston generated thousands of column inches, Williams kept the head down and got to know his new team-mates.

It wasn't a simple decision for a man steeped in Longford blue.

He was part of the county's Leinster minor winning team in 2002 and was a mentor to the 2010 team who repeated that feat.

His involvement has even stretched to co-managing the Longford ladies team for a period.


But having dislocated his shoulder for the second time in the first Allianz National League game of last season, Williams missed the 2011 campaign.

By the time he returned to full fitness, Michael Quinn had come home from Australia and his grip on the No 6 jersey had slipped.

After much deliberation, he decided to make the move and join Leitrim.

He still lives and works in Longford and plays his club football for Clonguish.

It has been an emotional parting of the ways, but an amicable one.

"One day a woman came up to me on the street in Longford town, crying, to give me a hug and that was a very hard thing to take," he says.

"But people understand where I'm coming from. Every time I played in a Longford jersey I gave my all, but it is just unfortunate how it worked out. People have been very supportive.

"After the London game, 75pc of the texts I got were from Longford people congratulating me and with the Mayo game I'm getting a lot of support and goodwill.

"I owe the Longford people an awful lot and I've never really had a chance to say thank you."

The reaction he received in his home town was one thing, but the other concern Williams had was how he would be perceived in his new county set-up.

"There is always a doubt in your mind that, 'are these lads going to accept me or do they think I'm a prima donna, thinking I'm going to playing?'" he admits.

"I thought all of those thoughts, but the welcome I received has made it easier.

"Not just players and management, but after the London game the reception the supporters gave me made me feel overwhelmed."

Williams has watched the Johnston debate with added interest over the spring and summer and he can't help but empathise with the former Cavan star whose move to Kildare has dominated the airwaves.

"Seanie Johnston was probably thinking more or less the same thing I was," he says.

"He is a similar age to me and he wants to play county football and wants the opportunity to test himself against the best.

"It has been blown out of proportion. If he hadn't moved he'd be sitting there with his inter-county career petering out."

Tomorrow, Williams will take the field for a provincial semi-final for the first time in his career.

His father, Tommy, didn't live to see him wearing the green and yellow of his native county, but he'll be looking down tomorrow as the centre half- back anchors the defence against Mayo.

Two years ago his son was at the heart of a Longford effort that ended John O'Mahony's reign as Mayo manager with a qualifier shock at Pearse Park, but while he can't wait for the action to start at Castlebar, he reckons the 18/1 outsiders' chances of catching the Connacht champions again is a taller order.

"Mayo have moved on a lot from that day," he admits.

"They are one of the top five teams in the country.

"For me personally, this is the biggest game of my life and for a lot of the team it will be the same.

"I've never played in a provincial semi-final before, so while we're overwhelming underdogs, we're looking to put in a performance and we'll see where that performance takes us. That's all we can control."

Irish Independent

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