Fitzsimons and O'Mullan ready to ride wave of optimism
The 'Saffron Vision' era for Antrim GAA begins tomorrow, as new county Chairman Collie Donnelly expresses his desire that both the hurlers and footballers can surf the current feel-good factor.
With the county hurlers, who get their season under way tomorrow with a Walsh Cup tie away to Laois (Harewood School 3G pitch, 2pm), under the new management of PJ O'Mullan jnr, and the county footballers boosted by a number of familiar faces returning, there is a serious level of optimism abounding.
Last month, six of the eight county board positions up for grabs at the county convention were secured by members of 'Saffron Vision'.
New Chairman Donnelly had already served on the Central Hearings Committee of the county board but he is undoubtedly the figurehead of what is essentially a fresh start.
The St John's clubman told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have a new team on board. Both teams have fresh county management and there are a number of players back. There seems to be a bit of a buzz, so we are hoping to build on that."
He can feel the anticipation as the New Year rolls around, just as he did when he was a county player himself.
"I wouldn't for a minute take the credit for that, but I think there has been mood for change in Antrim," he explained.
"No disrespect to the people that went before, but I think as a county we just went stale. You just need a group of new people to try to have better communications with the clubs, try and get a wee bit of pride back in Antrim, particularly clubs who are proud of their players and want them to go on and represent their county.
"For whatever reason we seem to have lost our way. Maybe we were bogged down with the whole Casement Park thing. When you lose your own home, it is very difficult.
"We travel around, playing at different grounds. It can wear you down."
O'Mullan's hurlers are the first in action. The Loughgiel man said: "The trials have gone well. We have asked clubs to nominate people and we asked people to come in. There are one or two people to come and one or two we would have liked, but didn't get.
"But, overall, with the exception of Paul Shiels, the Cushendall and Creggan lads, we have 95 per cent of the players we are looking for. That's a good start for us, it's a good base."
On Sunday, the Antrim footballers will be in Owenbeg, taking on neighbours Derry.
Last year when taking over, manager Frankie Fitzsimons had to come to terms with a personal family tragedy. This year, he has had more time to focus and several highly-rated players have returned to the fold.
Most interestingly, former World champion boxer Brian Magee has been preparing them for battle in his gym over the winter.
"You can see they're just like sponges listening to him," said Fitzsimons of his players' interaction with Magee.
"He knows it's a privilege to be doing it too.
"He is very humble that way and he is getting it across to them what it means to be playing for the county. And he'll have them fit, trust me.
"I just looked at Dublin and Kerry last year and there was no big mass of muscles with them. They were trim. That is the road Brian is going down too with our boys."