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Shane McNaughton: Jim’ll fix it at Antrim

Calm Nelson can solve amateurish Saffrons’ crisis

By Declan Bogue

At the end of a turbulent and troubled season for Antrim that by strange happenstance concluded with them lifting the Ulster hurling Championship, Shane McNaughton has spoken of his wish for interim manager Jim Nelson to be granted a permanent role in 2013, if not that of team manager.

“I would definitely like to see Jim [become involved]” said McNaughton. “He’s a very calming presence, he’s unlike any manager I ever had before. I realised when he first came in why Loughgiel did do so well, he’s calming in the changing room.”

He continued, “The experience that he would bring I mean, he used to manage my dad, so you automatically respect someone like that, but you can’t expect it. Jim’s pushing on and it’s a big, big commitment to be manager, you couldn’t expect him.”

When it was suggested that Nelson’s undoubted coaching pedigree, and the work he undertook with Loughgiel that lead to their St Patrick’s Day All-Ireland triumph could be utilised as part of a potential backroom team, McNaughton added, “Aye, I would like him to be part of it, definitely.”

Last week McNaughton had some stinging criticisms of the Antrim county board, the focus of which being how their season was thrown into a tailspin after the defeat to Westmeath in the Leinster Championship, claiming, “For training, we didn’t know what managers, let alone what players were going to be there leading up to the game.

“There are a lot of fellas who need to take a look at themselves, including most of the players.

“The things that were going on behind the scenes were ridiculous; it was childish It was the most amateurish thing you could get. When the rest of the GAA has such a professional set-up, ours was like an U-14 team.”

With Nelson coming in and bringing a measure of much-needed stability, it could have been said that McNaughton was putting undue pressure on himself before an Ulster final.

He refuted that notion though, stating: “I didn’t feel any pressure from it, but the whole team probably felt pressure as a group. It wasn’t individually. I just felt today that we had to pull together and give a performance and I am just thankful we did.

“If we’d have went out there and gave it about 60 or 70%, then everything we would have said over the last few days would have meant damn all. We needed to go out and show supporters, and more so ourselves and our families and friends. We have a bit of pride in ourselves and in our hurling.”

He added: “The whole thing that went on was very embarrassing for every one of us. I’m just happy that we went out and gave that kind of performance. I know it’ll not mean an awful lot to the supporters; I mean, you can see by the reaction to it that it was hard enough to get a cheer for the team. But it wasn’t about the win, it was about restoring a bit of pride in our county.”

In handing such a beating to Derry, it was the only available catharsis to Antrim. The relentless nature of the drubbing was characterised by McNaughton’s pursuit of goals towards the end.

He put Eddie McCloskey through with ten minutes left who was foiled by another brilliant save from Derry goalkeeper Darrell McDermott. On 63 minutes though, the Cushendall midfielder buried a groundstroke to the net and spoke of the need to punish teams on the scoreboard, akin to Kilkenny on their meanest days; “They bring that ruthlessness and you need a bit of that there in your hurling if you’re going to push on at all.”

Although he said, “I’m very happy this season’s over, to be honest and all the players are too,” McNaughton played down the suspicion that there could be withdrawals from the panel in 2013.

“The majority of that team are very young, there are only a few that will be questioning what they will be doing next year,” he said. “You wouldn’t be making decisions like that now, because it’s too soon. Once we get back into pre-season you get a freshness about the whole thing and it starts coming to life. Once we forget about the Limerick game and the whole Jerry Wallace thing, once we get our heads around it.

“You still want to play for your county. You play club hurling because you’re born there, you play county because you want to better yourself and test yourself against the best teams. I think people will realise that when the new season comes.”

Belfast Telegraph

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