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Antrim need to raise the bar, says Sean McVeigh

By Declan Bogue

Incoming Antrim football manager Frank Fitzsimons will still have to be ratified at next Monday night's county board meeting.

This comes despite the declaration by county board Chairman Jim Murray on Wednesday that, 'Coiste Aontroim are delighted to announce that Frank Fitzsimons has been appointed Antrim senior football manager' on Twitter.

However, at this stage there would appear to be little opposition towards Fitzsimons, who will graduate from last year's roles of senior selector and county under-21 manager.

Fitzsimons is bringing a backroom team that will be welcomed by the Antrim playing personnel. Mick McGurn, the renowned fitness expert who has worked with the Irish Rugby and International Rules teams, as well as Everton, St Helen's and the Ospreys, is in as strength and conditioning coach.

Currently based in the Queen's PEC where he coaches high-performance athletes, McGurn is relishing the challenge of bringing Antrim up to the required level of conditioning in modern Gaelic football.

Other selectors on the ticket are trainer Gerard McNulty of the St Enda's club and Sean McKenna of St Paul's. Fitzsimons is also expected to step down from his role as Lamh Dhearg manager.

County midfielder Sean McVeigh is delighted with the new-look management team following the departure of Liam 'Baker' Bradley, saying of Fitzsimons: "Frankie is very good. He probably didn't have a massive impact last year and that was no fault of his own.

"But the most important thing is his passion for Antrim football. I think that's what we need. He is very well-organised and he has a great rapport with all the players, both senior and the young boys."

McNulty was the trainer of Fitzsimons' under-21 team, and McVeigh explains: "Everyone knows Gerard is a fantastic coach and was brilliant with the under-21s last year and the under-21s I talked to can't talk highly enough about him.

"Gerard would have the consistency because he has been with this Antrim set-up for the last three years. He had a year under Frank Dawson and under Baker, so he has that experience."

The funny thing about McGurn's link-up with the Antrim squad was that McVeigh had already made contact with Fitzsimons about getting in touch with the Fermanagh man. His girlfriend was going to pay for some one-to-one coaching with McGurn in order to give him a decent base in time for pre-season.

"But I will be holding back on that now!" jokes the Ballymena schoolteacher.

While the Antrim county board have come in for some criticism over their handling of the situation, with interviews conducted while Bradley was still essentially in the job, McVeigh places it in context.

"I do think that the county board need to be a bit more forward thinking, but having said that, Donegal county board were in a similar situation. The only reason Donegal are able to go to Portugal, to Johnstown House and Lough Erne, is because they have big money men all over the world.

"We can only blame the players because we are not winning games and bringing money men in. People do have a harsh word on the county board but the buck stops with players and the management. We need to start winning games and being successful. There are plenty who would be happy to pay in to a players' fund."

Top of the agenda for Antrim, he feels, is delivering a good enough run of results to take them back out of Division Four after a season of bottoming-out in 2014.

"Nobody wants to be playing there and every time I read in the paper that Antrim are Division Four I cringe," he says. "Not to disrespect any team, but nobody wants to be in Division Four.

"Everyone knows you do your best in the league and you take Championship as it comes. We got that win over Fermanagh but that wouldn't have been our main aim. Our main aim would have been to get promoted. I would like to think we will be doing that again this year."

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