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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 24 October 2020

The son of an ex-inter-county GAA player aiming to realise a Premier League dream

Newcastle youngster Oisin McEntee is hoping to make an impact for Ireland at the U19 Euros.

Oisin McEntee pictured at a recent Ireland U19 media event.
Oisin McEntee pictured at a recent Ireland U19 media event.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

COUNTY CAVAN IS not exactly known as a hotbed of footballing talent, though there have been promising signs in recent years.

Ireland international Cillian Sheridan, of course, is one of a handful of Irish players to have competed in the Champions League group stages over the past decade, lining out in Europe’s premier club competition during a two-year spell at Cypriot outfit APOEL.

There are high hopes too for current Ireland underage internationals Jake Doyle-Hayes of Aston Villa and Newcastle’s Oisin McEntee, while for the Irish women’s team, 20-year-old West Ham starlet Leanne Kiernan is clearly gifted.

McEntee in particular has made good progress in recent months, with the defender making his Newcastle U23s debut earlier this year, grabbing a goal in the process amid a 4-2 win over West Brom.

Later this month, he is expected to be part of the Ireland U19 side that travels to Armenia for the Euros, as they bid to emulate their Brian Kerr-managed predecessors of 1998 by winning the illustrious prize.

McEntee is eager to get going again, having been off for a number of weeks. A ball to the head in training ended his season at club level prematurely last April. The resulting concussion the player suffered meant he had to take a mandatory two weeks off. And with the campaign all but over at that stage, he was allowed by the Magpies’ coaches to return home to Ireland.

It is a perhaps somewhat refreshing for the 18-year-old to have enjoyed this extended break. He got just two weeks off last summer owing an injury and a subsequent operation he had to undertake. This time around, McEntee got a chance to relax on a family holiday to Portugal, though still ensured he devoted plenty of time to gym work and other football-related activities while he was ‘off’.

McEntee can certainly afford to take it easy for a few weeks, having made good progress at Newcastle, the club he joined aged 16. He captained the U18s and alternated between them and the U23s this season. He has been coached by ex-Everton player Dave Watson and Ben Dawson, who is currently taking charge of the first team, as the club search for a permanent successor to recently departed manager Rafa Benitez.

They are good coaches, they know the game very well and it’s very organised, you get six-week reviews during the season,” McEntee adds.

Sometimes, people in the game can be quite dismissive in relation to U23 football, comparing it unfavourably to loan stints at lower tier senior clubs where three points truly matter and people’s livelihoods are on the line. McEntee, however, feels it is the right stage for him at this moment in his development.

“I do get that point [that first-team football is important], but for me, I’m only U18, so going up to U23 was a massive step and I feel I’ve come on leaps and bounds. It’s older lads and some of the first teamers that aren’t getting their spot are coming down and training, so it’s a tougher standard for me anyway.

“Maybe later on, first team would be better. But the league I was in last year was very competitive, a lot of teams were very close and evenly matched.”

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Southampton v Everton Former Everton player Dave Watson is one of McEntee's coaches at Newcastle. Source: EMPICS Sport

At the moment, McEntee is loving life at Newcastle. “It’s football every day, it’s everyone’s dream,” he says.

But it could so easily have worked out differently for the talented teenager. His father played GAA at inter-county level for Cavan and managed him in the sport as a youngster.

“Growing up, he was always my Gaelic manager and it was kind of, I just played soccer to keep me going,” he recalls. “When I was U8s and U10s, I would have played soccer to just keep me fit over the winter, but it kinda got serious when I was 12, when I went up to Derry and the Foyle Cup and a Manchester United scout [Walter Murphy] saw me and asked me to go over.

“My dad saw there was potential. My mam would have been the soccer one in the house, but now they both love it, to be fair. It was hard for me leaving Gaelic, because he was the manager and all the kids parents were asking ‘why is he not playing’ if I had a big soccer game on. He’d have to explain.

“I played with Shercock, my club, and then my school, there was no county level at that age group.

“My school [Patrician High School in Carrickmacross] was a big Gaelic school so I had to play a lot there. I just played with school and a bit of club, I was all over the shop before I went over [to England].

“I went over when I was 12, I support Man United as well, so it was class. From playing with Carrick Rovers and playing Gaelic football, going over there was mad.”

Previously a staunch GAA man, his father is increasingly starting to come around to soccer.

“He loves it, yeah, he’s starting to get to know all the rules. He loves the Premier League now, he supports Newcastle.”

Consequently, McEntee edging closer to his Premier League dream has been the reward for years of immense toll and sacrifice, and long hours spent honing his craft at Belvedere, Malahide, Carrick Rovers and Cootehill Celtic.

I lived up in Cavan, so I played a bit with Cootehill first, then I moved to Carrick Rovers, I then made the move to Belvedere at U14. I loved playing with Carrick, but then scouts were coming and saying: ‘We think you’re going to have to move, we’d want to see you against the best in Ireland in the DDSL.’ I was after winning the Galway Cup with Cavan/Monaghan group and a few scouts had seen me, but they didn’t want to take the risk until they saw me at that standard.

“I moved up there, it was a class first season. I won the All-Ireland. There were a few players that made it across the water like Sean Brennan and Troy Parrott. We had a good team. I moved over, stayed with Belvedere for a year, but then the U15 team I was with kind of broke up, so I went to Malahide for a few years.

“Straight after school, I’d eat dinner in the car going up [during] the hour and a half journey. I was going twice a week up to Dublin after school, a game on Saturday and then on Sunday I was going to DDSL training in Wayside, so there was a lot of running around.”

Oisin McEntee goes in goal after Jimmy Corcoran was sent off Ireland's Oisin McEntee goes in goal after goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran was sent off during the U17 Euros. Source: Simon Stacpoole/INPHO

Though he is hoping to eclipse it in a few weeks’ time with the Ireland U19s, one of the undoubted highlights of McEntee’s young career so far was competing at the Euro U17s last year.

Colin O’Brien’s talented array of youngsters impressed in the tournament, ultimately bowing out following a controversial quarter-final penalty shootout loss against Netherlands.

McEntee was in the thick of the action that day. With the shootout at 4-4, Dutch player Daishawn Redan saw his penalty saved by Jimmy Corcoran. However, the Irish goalkeeper was penalised for encroaching and sent off after receiving a second booking, while a re-take of the penalty was ordered.

McEntee, primarily a centre-back, volunteered to go in goals in his team-mate’s absence, but could not prevent the Dutch from narrowly prevailing.

“It was a devastating moment, but it’s football,” he says upon reflection. “Referees make decisions.

I would have played a lot of Gaelic football before, so I think that’s why they put me in. At the start of the tournament, Colin said to me that it’s tournament football and anything can happen and that in the case of a keeper getting sent off or injured and we don’t have an extra sub, could I go in goals as an outfield player. I said ‘yeah’. But then when it happened in the shootout, I didn’t know what to do.

“I wasn’t expecting it. It doesn’t happen that much. And I didn’t save it. That’s it.”

With Ireland one of just eight teams competing in the U19 Euros and many of those U17 players having now graduated to the next level, McEntee and co will be hoping for better luck, as they aim to build on an impressive record whereby they were the only team to retain a 100% record during qualification. Should the young defender succeed, it would be another massive step towards putting Cavan on the footballing map.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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