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Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimmons not a fan of change


In the middle: Frank Fitzsimmons (centre) wants his county board to ask his players’ opinion of proposed All-Ireland changes

In the middle: Frank Fitzsimmons (centre) wants his county board to ask his players’ opinion of proposed All-Ireland changes

©INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

In the middle: Frank Fitzsimmons (centre) wants his county board to ask his players’ opinion of proposed All-Ireland changes

Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimmons has urged his county board to speak to his players before they reach a decision over how they will vote on the proposed Intermediate Football Championship at Congress next month.

Following Saturday's meeting of Central Council, a proposal will go on the Clár in Carlow on February 26 and 27, holding that teams in Division Four at the conclusion of the National League will enter an All-Ireland 'B' competition, to be played as a straight knockout format when they exit their provincial Championship (providing they do not reach the final).

Such a move for those stranded in Division Four blocks the qualifiers route, where Antrim sprung one of the surprises of last summer in staging an audacious comeback to beat Division Two side Laois.

"I would expect the players to be involved before it is all discussed. I think the players need to be spoken to anyway, before they go down to Congress and vote on it," Fitzsimmons told the Belfast Telegraph.

The Saffrons boss believes that this mood for change is coming from high-profile pundits in the game influencing those in powerful positions in the Association.

"A lot of it comes from these pundits ridiculing Division Three and Four teams," Fitzsimmons insisted.

"I would rather the back door stays the way it is. It gives us something. At the moment, it is only at the proposal stage so we are commenting on something that has not happened."

Asked if their win over Laois last year could act as a more effective inspiration than a secondary competition, Fitzsimmons commented: "There's no doubt about it. Our win over Laois proved that on any given day, we can beat the teams outside of the top tier.

"I think of the likes of Paddy McBride, Ryan Murray and our young players who were playing against Laois last year. If they adopted this change, younger players might not get to experience that. You are going to be down at a lower platform and stay there.

"I am not disregarding any competition that they could put in its place, but you are taking away something that has been there for a very long time. It's a hard one to think about. I wouldn't like to be playing in it, put it like that. But if it's the hand you are dealt, there's nothing you can do about it."

The new County Chairman, Collie Donnelly, believes that a certain amount of politicking might have to take place in order to secure a two-thirds majority of the vote at Congress to ward the proposed change off.

He explained: "You have a lot of counties voting for something that doesn't affect them. Let's be honest, teams like Kerry will never be in Division Four."

Instead, he believes only the affected counties should have a say in the matter.

"I think that's more realistic. One of the players is already opposed to it. Generally, if the players aren't up for it, you have a hard sell in any county," he said.

The GAA at Central Council level seems determined to give this idea a platform for debate, but whether they truly believe it may fly in Carlow is another matter.

In the past, they have formed standing committees to investigate playing rule changes and the level of scrutiny involved leaves the proposals on a stronger footing when it comes to being debated on the 'floor' at Congress.

What counts against it is the limited success that of a previous All-Ireland 'B', and the Tommy Murphy Cup - both of which Antrim won.

At the highest level in Antrim, they remain unconvinced of the merits of a new secondary competition.

The Antrim county board discussed the issue at Monday night's county management meeting.

Donnelly, however, gave an insight into their thinking when he discussed the Tommy Murphy Cup win in 2007.

He said: "It was great for any footballer to play in Croke Park and win something. But I just think the competition itself lost its way and lost its status. I don't know if Antrim would have the appetite for that kind of thing again."

It would also have a knock-on effect in trying to keep players from departing to America once their provincial interest comes to an end.

Fitzsimmons added: "It would be very hard indeed to get the players inspired, and get them looking forward to an Intermediate Championship.

"Look at Fermanagh for example, it hasn't been that long since they were in Division Four. Now, they have got a day in Croke Park. It gives you something to work towards.

"Realistically, they are taking out the bottom tier so there is only three rounds of qualifiers instead of four. That, to me, is all they are worried about - the bigger teams having only three games to play rather than four to make it to Croke Park."

Belfast Telegraph