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Antrim must earn promotion, says Fitzsimons as Saffrons close in on new manager

By John Campbell

When managers depart the inter-county arena, their exit is usually accompanied by frustration, anger or disillusionment.

But even though he was not quite turning cartwheels when he discovered the process by which Antrim sought to appoint a new football boss, Frank Fitzsimons, who exited the post just recently, has made an impassioned plea to "all stakeholders" to rally to the county's cause.

In tandem with Gearoid Adams, Fitzsimons successfully blooded several new players in the Saffrons side and he is now keen to see the county board appoint his successor as quickly as possible so that maximum time will be made available for preparations for the 2018 season.

"I'm Antrim through and through and I just want to see the team given every chance to get out of Division Four," insisted Fitzsimons. "There are some very good players in the side and their development will not be helped if they have to play in the basement division for too long. I just hope whoever takes over as manager will be given every assistance from all stakeholders to get the side up into Division Three.

"It's alright talking about Championship football, but no team will make real headway in the Championship coming from Division Four. We did our best while we were there and I want to see Antrim get promotion if at all possible next year. That would be a big start and then, if they could get a year to become acclimatised to Division Three, they could possibly target more progress.

"But getting out of Division Four will not be easy because you have teams like Limerick, Carlow and other sides in there who will be tough opponents. You have to realise that all the teams in there will want to take the big step up - it's down to a matter of pride as much as anything else."

Fitzsimons is convinced that players such as Paddy McBride, Paddy McAleer, Conor Murray, Peter Healy, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Ruairi McCann represent the future from an Antrim perspective and he is keen to see the new manager avail of their skills.

"Obviously whoever comes in will naturally want to be his own man, but I'm just hopeful that the talent which has come to the surface this year will be given the chance to mature further. I know that all the boys bought into the lifestyle of county players and I feel they would be prepared to make the sacrifices needed to restore the county's pride," maintained Fitzsimons.

It is believed that interviews relative to the appointment of a new manager are continuing, with Aidan O'Rourke, John McKeever and Lenny Harbinson the frontrunners for the post.

It is understood that the board expect to confirm an appointee shortly, and this would mean that the new boss would be able to take in the county senior football Championship semi-finals.

The first of these will take place on Saturday, September 30 when Kickhams Creggan meet Lamh Dhearg at Glenavy, with St John's facing Cargin the following day at Hannahstown. The four teams embrace a raft of players who played for Antrim this year.

Because of their early exit from the All-Ireland Championship, Antrim will be able to resume training in November by which time the new boss is expected to have confirmed his preliminary squad of players for 2018.

Fitzsimons, who is currently taking time out from football but does not rule out the possibility of becoming involved in management again, also urges fans to get behind the team in their endeavours to improve their league status.

"I know I will certainly be going along to give Antrim my backing in the McKenna Cup, league and Championship," he asserted. "Maybe Antrim are not the most successful team but I can say that the players who represented the county this year gave their all. We as management could not have asked for any more.

"If they can replicate this commitment next year then I think that real progress can be made not just in terms of the team but in terms of boosting Gaelic football within the county as a whole.

"That's what we all want to see and hopefully this will come about."

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