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Ditch football and stick to hurling, Antrim are told

By Declan Bogue

Published 13/10/2015

Decision time: Mike McGurn has challenged the Saffron county
Decision time: Mike McGurn has challenged the Saffron county

Mike McGurn, the renowned strength and conditioning coach who has ended his involvement with the Antrim footballers, has questioned if the Saffron county might "do a Kilkenny on it," by diverting all their resources into hurling as the best footballers in the county will not commit to the cause.

And, the former Irish Rugby and International Rules backroom member has questioned the logic behind retaining a strength and conditioning coach, given how far down the priority list it comes with other problems urgently needing attention.

"Somewhere along the line, they need to make a conscious decision - are they going to take football forward in Antrim, or maybe they might be better off forgetting about it, and doing a Kilkenny on it, (putting all the resources into hurling)," McGurn told The Belfast Telegraph.

"I am being honest about that. They are wasting time, money and resources."

McGurn believes that the Antrim footballers want for nothing, yet they remain rooted in Division Four of the National League for the third consecutive year when the season gets up and running. In Championship, their form has been similarly dismal, save for a surprise backdoor win over Laois last year.

McGurn saidd: "Antrim have a good set-up. Jordanstown is a good training facility, they are well looked after. They are not found wanting for all those things compared to other teams.

"But when your players don't want to play, then it's not going to happen."

During last season, key players such as Cargin brothers Tomás and Miceál McCann dropped out during the National League. In his first year as manager, Frankie Fitzsimons was unable to get other talented players such as Kevin Niblock, Kevin O'Boyle and Brian Neeson to sign up to the cause.

Since they lost to Fermanagh in round two of the qualifiers, experienced duo Michael Pollock and Tony Scullion have said they will not be back in 2016.

McGurn agrees that playing for the Antrim footballers can be a hard sell.

"I always described it as having a girlfriend who doesn't want to go out with you. You can't make her love you," said.

"They generally don't want to play for Antrim. There isn't that attraction that there is in a Fermanagh, or a Tyrone or a Kerry. It just isn't there, there isn't that environment that they want to go there. The environment is not right.

"Whoever's fault that is, I don't know, because I was only there for nine months. But it is an environment that doesn't lend itself to players wanting to play for Antrim. It doesn't appeal and it is very hard to change that."

When McGurn was added to Fitzsimons' ticket, a host of Antrim players praised his inclusion and the work he was carrying out with them. However, McGurn felt he had to be honest with Fitzsimons, with their relationship stretching back over twenty years.

"I could have easily stayed on, but I would have been a hypocrite," he insists.

"I was very honest with Frank. I said, 'Look, strength and conditioning is not high on your priorities of this group of players, it is not what you need. You need your best players.'

"There is no point being strong and going out and playing players who are not up to the standard. That is the bottom line.

"Otherwise we could go up to the Mary Peters track and pick 30 long-distance runners and throw them into the squad if that was the priority.

"But they wouldn't be able to kick the ball over the bar. You need quality players."

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