The former Sam Maguire winner with Armagh claimed that “for people who play all our lives”, Gaelic footballers in general haven’t mastered the various skills of the game.
The damning analysis may be disputed by those who suggest that modern defensive systems have simply made it more difficult to show off the full range of skills.
But McEntee rejected that argument and gave examples of recent games where players failed to execute basic skills under relatively little pressure.
He cited a MacRory Cup Ulster colleges tie earlier this month between Abbey CBS and Omagh CBS which finished 2-2 to 0-8.
“The Abbey were leading at half-time despite not having scored a single point in the first half, and in that game there were 23 wides after 37 minutes,” said McEntee.
He then moved onto the Round 1, Sigerson Cup tie between Liam Kearns’ UL and Maynooth University, again played in calm conditions under lights, which UL won by 0-6 to 0-5. The highlights package of the Sigerson game put together by the tournament sponsor amounted to a single point from long range.
“When I look at that score, I see three lateral hand passes and a kick from 45 yards, the kick is a hope kick from 45 yards,” said McEntee.
“I don’t see any intensity, I don’t see any pressure, I don’t see mass defences, just three on three in the full-forward line ahead of him. So when you say that teams are filtering back and covering the bases, and it’s so hard to score and all these other reasons, the evidence is not showing this.”
McEntee’s final example of poor technical ability was November’s International Rules test between Ireland and Australia. “We played the Australians with a ball we’ve been playing with all our life, against a ball they’ve been using for six weeks or whatever it is,” he commented. “After 40 minutes in that match, with our elite athletes, we had one over. So that’s one point in 40 minutes. We were 28 points down at that stage.
“So right throughout our ranges, from schools football to colleges football to university football, county football, club football and the International Rules game, we’re letting ourselves down by not being technically competent at our game.
“We’re as fast, we’re as strong, we’re as good as everybody else. Our problem is that we’re not technically as good as we should be, for people who play all our lives.”
Speaking at the O’Neill’s Ulster GAA Coaching and Games Development conference, the Crossmaglen Rangers man suggested that a change of mindset is necessary from the bottom up in the game to focus on the full development of players.
“If we have the information which suggests that we’re negating technical development of our players, to ignore that is our own choice,” he warned.
McEntee was joint manager of Crossmaglen when they claimed the 2011 and 2012 All-Ireland club titles. They have won six All-Irelands and have dominated Armagh football since the mid-1990s.
The Irish Examiner columnist revealed that the south-Armagh club has taken various steps to ensure that technical development of players from a young age is at the centre of their long-term philosophy.
“From 14s, 16s and minors, we focus heavily on the basic skills of the game,” he said. “We concentrate strongly on passing, the movement and the vision and one of the things we’re trying to work on is to enhance their knowledge of football.
“We’re trying to get them to understand the different styles of play and how each of those styles of play fit into our style. Secondly, how we play against each of those styles of play, whether it’s the massed defence or the open attacking game or whatever it is.
“What I’m suggesting is that we may favour as coaches to work on physical, strategic or mental development of our teams. We may be ignoring acute technical skills of our game.
“It would be my view that if you play a very heads down, move the ball quickly through the hands type of football, then you’re negating many skills that we have. You’re not allowing vision, an openness in play, any diversity of styles, you’re not allowing the development of inside forwards to retain ball early. My wish is that you (as coaches) exercise your choice to improve the amount of time spent on developing players technically.”