Former Antrim hurling star Olcan McFetridge has expressed the hope that the county’s new hurling boss, Kevin Ryan, can follow in the footsteps of Jim Nelson in 2013.
McFetridge, who played his club hurling with Armoy, scored one of the finest goals ever seen at Croke Park when the Saffrons, under Nelson’s baton, went under to Tipperary in the 1989 All Ireland final.
Even in defeat, it was an unforgettable experience for the Antrim players and McFetridge, whose slick stickwork and sharp finishing underlined that ground-breaking class of ’89, is keen to see his county again become a force in the All-Ireland series.
“I see that Kevin Ryan is seeking absolute dedication from the players and that’s an encouraging sign,” observes McFetridge.
“We gave that level of dedication but you need to give even more now.
“Unless boys want to play for the jersey, they are no use to any manager.”
And McFetridge believes that if Ryan “gets the breaks” then he could possibly find himself travelling along the same route as Nelson.
“Jim Nelson was not only an outstanding manager but he is an outstanding human being,” says McFetridge.
“He was a players’ manager through and through who took things on board, helped players with personal issues, knew the game inside out and gave of himself totally to Antrim.
“I cannot speak highly enough of him.”
McFetridge, conscious that players such as Neil McManus, Aaron Graffin, Neil McAuley and others have bolstered their reputations lately, believes that Antrim can make an impact in the Leinster championship — but with one proviso.
“They are going to have to work very, very hard,” he says.
“We all know that Kilkenny are a different product altogether but this does not mean that Antrim should not aspire to be the best they can.
“There is no reason why Antrim cannot progress in Leinster, but it all comes down to dedication.
“That is the main thing. Skill and technique are important elements, of course, but players need to be prepared to put the work in both on the training ground and in matches.”
It was Antrim’s heart-breaking eclipse at the hands of under-strength Westmeath in the Leinster championship this year that triggered huge disappointment, resentment and a hint of controversy within the county.
“But that’s in the past now. Jerry Wallace is gone, Kevin Ryan is in there and he’s from Waterford so he should know his hurling,” adds McFetridge.
“If he can take a leaf out of Jim Nelson’s book, that will do for me and I would imagine for a lot of other Antrim folk as well.”