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Leading figures pay tribute to former Antrim boss Nelson

By Declan Bogue

All-Star hurler Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton and 2012 All-Ireland winning Loughgiel manager PJ O'Mullan Jnr have led the tributes to Jim Nelson, the Antrim hurling manager who led the Saffrons to the 1989 All-Ireland hurling final, after he passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Nelson had been suffering with failing health in recent years.

As a coach, he had few equals in Ulster and was highly-respected throughout hurling strongholds elsewhere. While Antrim manager, he kept them in the old formatted Division One for eight seasons and masterminded their win over Offaly in the 1989 All-Ireland hurling semi-final, which brought Antrim to only their second All-Ireland decider.

He also achieved notable success at club level, helping O'Donovan Rossa win an All-Ireland in camogie, and also had impressive stints with Keady camogs and O'Donovan Rossa hurlers.

However, in recent years he coached Loughgiel Shamrocks to the All-Ireland title in 2012, with O'Mullan as manager.

With O'Mullan back in the manager's job after a sabbatical, Nelson had agreed to link up with the Shamrocks for the season ahead.

"What he did for our club, it was unbelievable," explained O'Mullan. "I know the bunch of players and the people about the club and the respect they had for him. He was an unassuming, quiet man.

"I was delighted when I asked him to become involved, he wasn't involved last year. I was delighted he was coming on board again."

He was also keen to talk about the personal effect that Nelson had on him, saying: "More than anything, I was glad to call him my friend. That's why he was like another father to me. He taught me what I know as far as coaching and being a manager goes. I learned from the best and if I can pick up a percentage of what he has taught me, it would be great.

"Jim rang me, daily, for five years. We would be on the phone and there wouldn't be a day that went by without Jim thinking of something or wanting to know what you thought of something. He was just an incredible man.

"Jim Nelson was just the most honest, decent man that anybody could ever want to meet and the best friend anybody could ever want to meet. He never had a bad word to say about anybody.

"It's a sad day for Antrim and for Ulster."

Those sentiments were echoed by McNaughton, who revealed: "He brought me onto the county minor team when I was 14. I had him right through minors, under-21s and seniors.

"Outside of that, Jim taught you how to be a good person. If you couldn't be made into a hurler then you would be made into a good person anyway. He was concerned about things in your life."

McNaughton also revealed that Nelson was the driving force in creating a county identity for Antrim teams and banishing old club allegiances.

He recalled: "He wouldn't allow you to do drills with your own clubmates. You weren't allowed to room with your own clubmates. He broke all the barriers down.

"When I first went into a county dressing room there were Ballycastle men in one corner, Cushendall in another, Belfast in another. Nobody spoke and there was never that united bond.

"I never experienced the country and Belfast thing. Jim broke those barriers. As years went on, they were never even thought of.

"I was with him for a massive chunk of my life. Two, three nights a week for years I was with Jim Nelson.

"He would have moulded me, without me knowing it. I have picked up habits now that I know came straight from Jim Nelson."

Jim's funeral mass will be at St Michael's church, off the Andersonstown Road, at 12 noon tomorrow. He is survived by wife Lilly, son Hugh and daughters Ciara and Lynda.

Belfast Telegraph

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