An hour after last June’s extra-time qualifier defeat to Tyrone in Navan, by which time even the most vocal of Meath supporters had composed themselves, manager Andy McEntee took part in a radio interview. He’d had to be held back from engaging referee Paddy Neilan when leaving the field, claiming Meath should have been awarded a free to level the game, and was still high on adrenaline.
“You’re still angry and emotional, aren’t you?” asked the interviewer.
McEntee, choking back tears now, responded: “That’s...that’s...that’s fair enough, yeah, that’s a fair comment.”
Currently in his third season in charge of Meath, it was the only occasion when McEntee, younger brother of Gerry who was sent off six minutes into the 1988 All-Ireland final replay win over Cork for hitting Niall Cahalane, truly lost it.
Andy has cut a composed and methodical figure while in charge of Meath, though football is a passion that runs deep within him. Shane McEntee, Andy’s son and an ever present in Meath’s midfield this season, acknowledges that he’s cut from the same cloth himself.
“He’s very intense with the whole thing,” said Shane of his father.
Having also been managed by his father when Meath reached the 2012 All-Ireland minor final, and at club underage level, Shane has come to realise that a little distance between father and son can be a healthy thing.
Shane plays his club football for St Peter’s, Dunboyne, just miles beyond the Dublin border, so could commute to and from his Social Sciences studies at UCD relatively easily but opted to live in Dublin instead.
“I’m living out now at the moment, in Rathmines,” he said. “Obviously with training and that I’d be home a good bit but it kind of suits me a bit more to be out of the house because we are just going to end up talking about one thing when we’re at home. You need a break from it the odd time.”
That McEntee fire and determination was what many people felt Meath lacked before Andy’s appointment in 2016, as a county that once stood for success and consistency became a byword for mediocrity.
Ask any neutral for their first impressions about Meath in recent years and they’re likely to refer to the team’s striking inability to hold onto leads against middle of the road teams.
They did cough up another lead against Donegal in Round 2 of this year’s league, losing a key game by two points, but bounced back with five straight wins, securing promotion to Division 1 for the first time since 2006.
We probably shouldn’t have been too surprised that the McEntees eventually came good. The family name is synonymous with success and another McEntee, James, Shane’s cousin, was man-of-the-match in last weekend’s defeat of Fermanagh.
Shane’s uncle Gerry, who was a selector for two seasons alongside Andy, remains one of the country’s foremost surgeons. Helen McEntee, another of Shane’s cousins, has been a Fine Gael TD since 2013, elected in a by-election caused by the tragic death of her father, also Shane McEntee. She is currently the Minister for European Affairs.
“We are all extremely proud of her,” said Shane.
"She is a massive Meath supporter too, they had their annual conference last weekend but she still managed to make it to Navan. I didn’t expect to see her but she was on the pitch afterward.”
There are a number of other success stories within the extended McEntee family, all of which can bring its own pressures and expectation on a young footballer like Shane.
“There is a bit yeah, my Leaving Cert results don’t hold up too great against some of them,” he said. “My brother and sister would have put me to shame on that front! But there is no real pressure, everyone is really supportive. Whatever someone wants to put their interests in, whatever scale or level, everyone is great for getting in behind each other. We have an extended family WhatsApp with the uncles and aunties and cousins. Every weekend is just littered with good luck messages. And I’ve my granny there and every week, it doesn’t matter how I play, every week I’m the best player on the pitch!”
Not everyone in Meath has been as supportive. When the team struggled, the claim Shane is only there because of his father has inevitably surfaced.
“You have to have a thick neck, you are going to hear a few comments,” said Shane. “It’s probably the easiest throwaway comment for a lot of people to make when things aren’t going well. I’d say it’s arguably tougher for the likes of my Mam and my sister who have to sit up in the stand. When I’m out on the pitch, I don’t hear all the stuff that’s been shouted, nor does Dad, but the family would hear a good bit of it.”
Opposing players have poured poison in McEntee’s ear about his family ties at times too.
“I don’t take it too personally,” he said. “If anybody is going to have that cut at me, I think to myself they are not that creative of individuals if that’s all they have on me.”
One of nine players to start every game for Meath this term, McEntee’s value to the team has been beyond question. The aim now is to cap a breakthrough campaign by claiming a rare piece of silverware at Croke Park.
“I think we’ve all learned a few tough lessons over the last number of years, none moreso than Dad,” said Shane. “Thankfully so many people just rowed in behind it and kept working through the tough times and this is some level of reward now.”