Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Home Sport GAA

Fitzsimons loving life after step into the unknown

 

By Declan Bogue

Whenever most inter-county coaches step down from their job, they have a honeymoon period during which they can take their pick from a host of the biggest names in club football.

Quite often it is a lucrative scene, and around this time of year a lot of horse-trading is being carried out as clubs secure themselves the services of a top man for the 2019 season.

That's never been something Frank Fitzsimons has been interested in. Before this year, he had never even taken charge of a team that wasn't either his club, Lamh Dhearg, or his county, Antrim.

Rather than get on the carousel, Fitzsimons decided to drop down a couple of rungs and take on St Enda's of Glengormley, who started this season in the Antrim Intermediate league.

After winning it all in their county, with Championship victories over St Paul's, Davitts, Moneyglass and Gort na Mona in the county final, the Glengormley men have gone all the way to this Saturday's Ulster Intermediate decider, where they face former Cavan kingpins Mullahoran at the Athletic Grounds (5pm).

"I knew they were young enough and an up and coming team," said Fitzsimons of going from managing the Saffron County footballers in 2017 to taking an Intermediate club in 2018.

"To me, it doesn't matter what level you are at - juniors, seniors, whatever. As long as you have lads who are committed and want to play, that is what it is all about. It doesn't have to be at whatever level.

"They are a good bunch of lads. I was a bit nervous at the start because I had never trained anyone but my own club. But after a while you get used to it and start having a bit of craic out of it. It's not all slogging, blood and guts stuff. There is a good old atmosphere about the place too."

Fitzsimons was Lamh Dhearg Under-21 manager last summer when they beat St Enda's, but a chance conversation with Declan Steele put an idea into his head of going up the hill to manage the club at senior level.

At St Enda's, Fitzsimons has brought along his long-term collaborator Pat Hughes, while Thomas McNulty - brother of former county coach Gerard - is on the coaching staff.

One of the many things Fitzsimons has noticed is how he has been able to go back to coaching football, something he felt he had little time to do while with Antrim due to all the other matters to attend to.

He is also glad he is not forcing players to make the extraordinary sacrifices required at county level.

"You have to be fair and try to balance things up. I have seen it myself and it is hard for lads. We have players there that have kids. There are two or three players with kids born this year and it is tough for them," he said.

"But, to be honest, this training four or five times a week, I just think that is ludicrous - especially at this time of the year."

The moment he knew he made the right decision came in the immediate aftermath of the two-point win over Tyrone's Tattyreagh in the Ulster semi-final.

"I stood back the other night after the semi-final win and watched those people and their families and the players enjoying it. That's the bit that I like," he said.

"There is some atmosphere around the club. That club has come through a lot of hard times in the last number of years."

Fitzsimons is another manager who is actively engaged in coaching the game that finds himself baffled by the latest raft of rule changes coming into Gaelic football following Saturday's meeting of Central Council, including the most controversial decisions - to limit the handpass to three consecutive passes, and a 'forward mark' that apes Australian Rules.

"I watched Cargin and St Gall's in the Championship, the one were Tomas McCann hit the late goal. That game was fantastic," he enthused.

"I don't know why they think the game needs changing. You get a lot of critics about the blanket defence, but I think a lot of the counties have moved away from that now.

"The game has evolved. (Carlow manager) Turlough O'Brien had it right when he summed it up, 'They want us all back in peak caps playing football'."

He also expressed his puzzlement as to how some of these changes could credibly be used in practical terms if they are applied across the board in club football.

"The mark?" questioned Fitzsimons. "It will never work in club football because county football has three or four officials there. In club, you are lucky if a referee turns up!

"I'll be honest, I think a lot of these rule changes are simply a means of keeping the critics happy. I don't think any of the changes are going to better the game."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph