For Enda Williams, matches don’t come any bigger than this! He has worn the Longford and Leitrim jerseys with distinction and on Sunday he is bracing himself for a massive derby battle.
Longford’s 2002 Leinster minor championship winning captain, a regular with the seniors from 2004 to 2011, switched allegiance and opted to transfer across the border to Leitrim, the county of his late father.
For two seasons (2012 & ‘13) he soldiered alongside his Leitrim team-mates, with the high point being a first ever All-Ireland SFC qualifier victory when they accounted for Wicklow by 0-13 to 0-10 on July 14, 2012.
However, the appointment of Jack Sheedy as Longford supremo was to trigger a dramatic career U-turn.
Up until the age of 13, Enda lined out with Sheedy’s home club Lucan Sarsfields before the family moved to Longford and the Dublin All-Star winner was instrumental in persuading him to transfer back to the O’Farrell County.
As a Leitrim player, Enda recalled two challenge games involving the counties, and ahead of the first competitive clash between them since 2011 he is adamant there’ll be no divided loyalties.
“It is going to be an emotional enough sort of occasion, going back to a place where you played for a couple of years. I have to control my emotions and concentrate on what I can control. But the most important thing is that Longford go down to Carrick-on-Shannon, get two points and start off our promotion push. That’s my goal.”
He is expecting a full blooded affair. “Leitrim will be very motivated because it is a local derby against us. I know exactly what to expect. They take a lot of pride in wearing their jersey and if we don’t match them in terms of commitment and passion and effort, we’re going to struggle big time.”
He isn’t pressing any panic buttons following Longford’s abysmal O’Byrne Cup campaign and on a personal level, was thrilled he came through the series unscathed and injury free.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it. The way I look at it is that we played against competitive teams - DCU one of the best Sigerson teams in the country, Meath and Westmeath who are in Division 2. We were missing some of our key players and the unfortunate thing with smaller squads in weaker counties, we can’t afford to be without the likes of Michael Quinn, Mark Hughes and Barry O’Farrell that are playing Sigerson and then you add in the injury to Francis McGee. We just can’t cope with significant losses.”
Enda revealed there was much soul searching and ‘a bit of a chat’ to address a few things in the wake of the O’Byrne Cup. “We had a bit of a chat after to try and move the ship forward in the right direction and since then there has been a good attitude at training. We’re just struggling a bit with a few injuries.”
He stresses that Longford ‘are no different’ than any of the other counties competing in the basement division – promotion is the target.
“I’m not going to be hypocritical, this is a massive game for both teams and to be honest, a win could be very significant to either in their promotion bid. I’m not going to underplay it. It is a local derby and if you win, it puts you on the front foot. You get such a massive boost from winning the first game and if you win, especially in a local derby, it gives you an extra incentive.”
Longford has suffered relegation twice in consecutive seasons and Enda believes the losses against Roscommon and Limerick in the opening two rounds of their 2014 Division 3 campaign sealed their relegation fate. “When you lose your first two games, straight away you are put on the back foot. We also lost away to Sligo by a point. We had opportunities and we didn’t take them. It came down to getting a win in Wexford Park in our final game and the best teams in the country have gone there and struggled. It was very disappointing.”
An All-Ireland winning minor manager and former senior manager with his native Laois, Sean Dempsey, was added to Jack Sheedy’s backroom set-up at the end of last year, as was Philip Kiernan, who served as a selector with Westmeath during Pat Flanagan’s tenure in charge. Enda says they are welcome additions.
Player welfare has been very topical of late and he doesn’t subscribe to the view that players are slaves. “I don’t buy into it. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. My opinion is that it is a great honour that I am able to perform in inter-county football. When I’m sitting here on a Tuesday evening I can’t wait to go training. Nobody comes into the house and puts a gun to my head and says you have to go. I want to get up and go because I want to, number one, to be the best that I can be, and number two, I want to represent Longford.”
He has reservations about altering inter-county championship structures. “There is an argument for changing the structures but if it happens, it could deny players the opportunity to experience some of the greatest moments I’ve enjoyed like beating Derry last year in Celtic Park, beating Mayo in Pearse Park in 2010, running Kerry (2006) and Down (2010) close, and during my time at Leitrim, the win over Wicklow. Those days are what you train for. It is for occasions like that you put in the dedication, commitment and effort.”
Enda will celebrate his 30th birthday in March and with support from the GPA’s Player Development Programme, he recently completed a Level 6 in Sports Psychology. “I came to a phase in my life last year where I started to look outside the white lines of the football field and I wanted to try to develop myself personally. I couldn’t speak highly enough of the GPA and the support they have given me.”
He would dearly love to see his Clonguish club mate, Paul Barden, back in action. “He is a model professional in the way he handles himself and if he doesn’t come back, I couldn’t put into words how much of a loss he would be.”
Enda senses the apathy of Longford fans but says the players are working hard to give them something to smile about. “It does give us a lift when we have the supporters behind us. We are trying our best to get results and give everything for the cause.”
Despite the demands of a hectic inter-county and club playing career, in addition to stints as a mentor with the county minors and the county senior ladies sides, he has lost none of his zest and passion for gaelic football.
“I’m not an individual that can do something half hearted, so when my whole heart isn’t into doing something I’ll stop. At the moment it is beating fairly strong and it is looking forward to the start of another league campaign. And once I’ve still got that little tingling inside me I’ll be keeping going.”