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Fitzsimons: I had no option but to drop trio from team

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/06/2015

Happier times: Frank Fitzsimons (right) celebrates after Antrim’s win over Laois at the weekend
Happier times: Frank Fitzsimons (right) celebrates after Antrim’s win over Laois at the weekend

Antrim manager Frankie Fitzsimons has revealed that although St Gall's trio Conor Burke and brothers Conor and Kieran McGourty were dropped from the starting line-up for their qualifier win over Laois last Saturday, he was fully prepared to introduce them into the action.

The Lamh Dhearg clubman re-iterated his support for the dropped players, penalised after they played a club hurling fixture the night before, and has received warm praise for how he has handled the situation so far.

He said: "This isn't a personal thing between me and the three lads. There was a stage on Saturday when both Conor and Kieran were for coming on.

"The two of them could have been used at any time, and I made that clear to them. Obviously, I don't think I could have started them. I have a big panel, and what am I telling the rest of the lads if I was starting somebody who played the night before the game?"

Fitzsimons confirmed that all three understood the manager's position and would be remaining with the panel as they look ahead to their July 4 Round 2A qualifier against Fermanagh, who beat them in the Ulster quarter-final.

"They are three top-class players, no doubt about it, and we will need them at training and they are in contention for selection for the Fermanagh game," Fitzsimons revealed, and he also refused to apportion any of the blame for the situation that arose at the foot of the Competitions Control Committee in Antrim, despite some heated words from Conor McGourty on the matter.

"We are a dual county and unfortunately it's the situation we are in," Fitzsimons said.

"The county board will tell you that both clubs arranged the game themselves. At the end of the day, everybody tried to get things sorted but it just didn't work. It didn't get sorted and that's the hand I was left with.

"But I am not blaming anybody. People might think I don't want to rubbish the county board or clubs. But it's one of those things.

"There is enough about Antrim airing their dirty laundry in public. It seems to be done all the time. Things go on in every county but it's not put out there all the time. People who are doing the knocking are the people who don't seem willing to help out clubs."

It was an otherwise successful weekend for Antrim, who became the first side in this Championship season to beat another two divisions above them in the National League with their dramatic comeback against Laois.

It came as no surprise to the former county under-21 coach, who said: "I have watched these players over the last lot of years and I watch them in training on a Tuesday and Thursday night, and wherever we are playing at the weekends.

"It gives me a chance to see what sort of potential the likes of Ryan Murray, Paddy McBride and Dermot McAleese have.

"Obviously they are young lads and you can't just throw them in too quickly. But to be fair to them, they all stepped up to the plate on Saturday."

As for facing the Ernemen again, he said: "We are going to their home venue again, but this will be our third game there in roughly a year.

"You have to forget about those sort of things. They are out of our control."

Belfast Telegraph

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