Antrim boss Dawson promises to bring back stars
For any manager coming into a new role, the first question normally concerns the availability of players. With Antrim football, the issue is a permanent fixture.
Following the appointment of Frank Dawson, there is a widely-held belief that he can coax back some of the footballers in his St Gall's club that — for various reasons — have had interrupted careers with their county.
A quick scan of their side throws up names such as Sean Kelly, Kevin and Conor McGourty, Colin Brady and Aodhan Gallagher, all very capable players who had either fallen out of favour, or withdrawn from Liam Bradley's squads over the past four seasons.
Yet, Dawson feels this problem is the same wherever you go. His long and winding coaching road has had stop-offs at Down clubs Clonduff (twice), Longstone and Burren, as well as a successful period in charge of the Down hurlers. Everywhere you go, he maintains, the players make their own decisions.
“No matter where you are coaching, you're hoping the environment that you create, the plan or the message that you employ, is conducive to people wanting to play football,” Dawson said.
“The success I have had would tell me that it hasn't been achieved by players staying away. I've always been able to get players to play — not for me, but for the group that we created.
“I'm confident in what I do, I'm confident that I will be designing an environment that will encourage people to want to play for their county no matter what is happening with them.”
While with Clonduff, Dawson led the Hilltown side to the 2000 Down Championship in his second spell at the club.
From there, he spent four years at Longstone, nurturing the talents of Ambrose Rogers (pictured) and Mark Poland, bringing them to their first county final in 2007, where they were defeated by Mayobridge.
Before all that came the Down hurlers, whom he brought to their last provincial title in 1997.
“I was a dual player with St Gall's but I had never coached any hurling at all,” he revealed.
“Maybe what they looked at and what would have pleased me was that all the other skills in management they thought would be a help could be transferred across.
“It was an experience that probably prepares you for any other post that you might be going for and you draw on all of your experiences. Some of them are good experiences and some of them are not good. Most of my experiences with Down hurling were all good. That all fills in the folder that you have in terms of experiences. You use them in different situations as you move on.”
Last year, he brought Burren back into the big time of an Ulster final, a tournament the club always felt was the level they should be competing at.
However, they were unfortunate to be up against the mighty Crossmaglen, and were beaten in a tight decider last winter in the Athletic Grounds.
Their shock exit from the Down Championship to former Dawson protégés Longstone last month may have opened the door on Antrim, but it wasn't that simple, as Dawson explained.
“It wasn't, ‘right, I'm going for this once I get finished with Burren for the year' — that wasn't in my thinking. Going for a position is a long way from actually being offered or accepting it. It wasn't a done deal because I was leaving Burren.”
Dawson continued: “I still had to give thought to whether I would actually do it if they offered it. Then, you have decisions to make.
“As I say, my goal all along was to manage a county side, and the fact that it's your own county is just a huge bonus.”
Looking ahead to a year in which they will face Ulster rivals Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan, Dawson set down some of the key tenets of his approach to the job.
“Everybody would look at the success of Donegal and feel that what they achieved from their base in 2010 to now has probably given every county hope that with the same application, the same drive and the same commitment, anything is possible.
“Antrim have the players and I need to see when I meet them, and we get ourselves settled into a programme, just what our realistic targets are.
“I have targets which I think are achievable, but they are for me at the minute.”