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Antrim are braced to hear Fitzpatrick fate

 

By John Campbell

Antrim expect to discover tonight if key forward Matthew Fitzpatrick will be available for the all-important Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final against Donegal later this month.

Fitzpatrick was handed a proposed one-match ban following an alleged incident in the Allianz League game against Armagh in March and, when he sought an earlier hearing, it was ruled that the case against him could not proceed.

Subsequently, the Central Competitions Control Committee re-served notice of the disciplinary action against the player which required him to accept the penalty or to seek a further hearing.

He chose the latter course and will present his case tonight at Croke Park.

Given that the Saffrons are already stripped of the services of the Murray brothers Ryan (injured) and Conor (suspended), and are still awaiting a decision on the fitness of skipper James Laverty, they can ill-afford to lose any further personnel for a game that county board spokesman Sean Kelly describes as "our biggest of the year by far".

Fitzpatrick, who won a Sigerson Cup medal earlier in the year with St Mary's University College and is a noted goalscorer, an attribute cherished by all managers, brings much-needed pace and penetration to the Antrim attack.

Antrim officials are keeping their fingers crossed that Fitzpatrick will be successful in his plea, particularly as their resources in attack are now somewhat limited because of the absence of the Murray brothers.

Should this prove to be the case then it would help draw the curtain on what has been described as "an unwanted distraction" by one county board official in the build-up to the Donegal game.

A letter signed by a total of 34 members of the county squad had been circulated to the clubs in Antrim following the initial disclosure of Fitzpatrick's alleged offence because they were unhappy with what they felt was a lack of support for the player in his plight.

The county board have now weighed in behind Fitzpatrick, a course of action which has helped defuse the tensions created.

The board, indeed, met with representatives of the senior football squad to address some concerns over the suspension of Fitzpatrick.

The Antrim board said in a statement released following the meeting: "The meeting with the players was very constructive and pointed to a number of shortcomings in relation to communications.

"Thankfully, the matter has been resolved and the focus for all parties will now be on preparation for the forthcoming match against Donegal."

Antrim joint managers Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams, of course, are especially keen for Fitzpatrick's hearing to have a positive outcome as he is a central figure to their plans to topple Donegal.

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