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New boss Fitzsimmons will focus on getting Antrim promoted

By John Campbell

Frank Fitzsimmons is in no doubt as to what his priority will be in his new role as Antrim football manager.

The Lamh Dhearg clubman will place a strong focus on taking the side out of Division Four in the Allianz League and thus build confidence for next year's Ulster Championship.

Fitzsimmons, a selector under ex-boss Liam Bradley for the past two years, has also been in charge of the county's under-21 team and intends losing no time in immersing himself in what is viewed as one of the most demanding jobs in Ulster football.

In his first term in charge, Bradley brought the Saffrons into the 2009 Ulster final in which they were beaten by Tyrone but that was as good as it got.

This year Antrim flattered to deceive in the league before bowing out of the Ulster championship to Donegal and then losing in the qualifiers to Limerick.

The Antrim championship is currently at the quarter-final stage, which means Fitzsimmons will have some scope in terms of assessing players for his squad.

It remains to be seen if players such as Sean Burke, Aodhan Gallagher, C J McGourty, Michael Magill, Gerard O'Boyle and Tony Scullion make themselves available for next year or if Fitzsimmons, who has an intimate knowledge of club football in the county, will require their services.

It is understood that Fitzsimmons will rubber-stamp what is expected to be a strong backroom team.

Paddy Graffin, who has considerable experience of managing at club level, and former Ireland rugby fitness guru Mike McGurn, are among names that are being mentioned in the context of linking up with Fitzsimmons.

The new manager already appears to have unearthed a raft of exciting young players at under-21 level, some of whom indeed have already acquired senior experience, and he may well persevere with this tranche of new talent while complementing it with a plethora of more established faces.

Antrim chairman Jim Murray, clearly anxious to see the county move on, believes that Fitzsimmons can adequately fill the breach left by Bradley.

"We are delighted that Frank has accepted the job and we would hope that it will be a case of upwards and onwards now," stated Murray.

"Obviously the initial focus will be on trying to get out of Division Four and into a higher bracket of football, and then hopefully we can take a more optimistic approach in relation to the Ulster Championship.

"I understand that Frank has stepped down from his managerial role with Lamh Dhearg and he will get the support of the county board in his efforts to oversee progress.

"There is no doubt that there is plenty of playing talent within the county and it is our hope that this can be harnessed into a winning combination. It's important that everyone pulls together in order that meaningful headway can be made."

Murray confirmed that Liam Bradley "withdrew from the process" when interviews were due to take place last week, while former Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke revealed that he was no longer interested in the post when his ambitious five-year strategic plan was not endorsed by the interviewing panel.

"We want to thank Liam Bradley for what he has done for Antrim but now we must move on," states Murray, "He withdrew from the process last week."

Indeed, the prospects of Glenullin clubman Bradley being returned for another year were diluted when the Antrim board – in other words, the clubs within the county – decided that nominations should be sought for the post.

"In effect, this was a vote of no confidence in me. That was not something that I wanted. The knives were out for me, it seemed," declared Bradley.

"As far as I am concerned, I was left with no option but to stand down from my position as Antrim senior manager."

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