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Frankie Fitzsimmons: Crusader star O'Neill gives us extra quality: Fitzsimons

By Declan Bogue

Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill will miss a pre-season trip to Liverpool this weekend, having been called into the Antrim senior football squad for their qualifier game against Limerick tomorrow.

The talented sportsman has been recruited as a midfielder by Saffrons manager Frankie Fitzsimons, who told the Belfast Telegraph that, since January, O'Neill has been working on making an arrangement with Crues boss Stephen Baxter to play Gaelic football.

"He is being named on the panel for Saturday, he will be there," said Fitzsimons.

The Lamh Dhearg man has not spoken directly to his Crusaders counterpart, but stated: "Sean and him had a wee chat halfway through the season. It was McKenna Cup time and I don't think it suited him at that time. Now it suits him and we are all hoping we can come to some sort of an arrangement for next year.

"He would be a great asset - he is a great asset to our panel - but if he can get it sorted out with his team it will be great."

The Hatchetmen are due to face FC Copenhagan in the second round of the Champions League qualifiers, with the home leg on July 12 and a return leg a week later. As a result, they have ramped up preparations with a weekend away in England, but they will now be without their shot-stopper.

O'Neill has played in the Championship before with Antrim - back in 2011 against Donegal, when he was a very vocal goalkeeper. However, he is in the panel to be a midfielder this time. For his club, Davitts, O'Neill has greatly impressed with his fielding and general play, while he has been tried in in-house games as a wing-forward.

"I suppose if we were stuck some day we might ask him (to go in goal), but he is a very good outfield player in Gaelic football," Fitzsimons added.

It's a case of one Irish League player joining the set-up while another leaves, as Brian 'Bam' Neeson, goalkeeper for Carrick Rangers and forward with his county, has left the panel. It is understood that work commitments, with Neeson self-employed as a personal trainer, played a significant part in his decision.

Another to be drafted into the Antrim senior team is St Enda's youngster Odhran Eastwood, who was on the county Under-21 panel this year.

The two sides swapped places in the National League this year, Limerick being relegated from Division Three to the basement while Antrim won promotion from Division Four.

However, league places mean little, according to goalkeeper Chris Kerr.

"If we were talking about how we were playing in the league you would have thought we would have done better against Fermanagh. I don't really think the league has any bearing," he said.

"The last game in the league, the league final, was April 23, so a lot has come and gone since then, I wouldn't say it has any bearing on the game to be honest.

"We had a good record at Corrigan Park all year, so hopefully that will stand us in good stead. It's a Saturday game so they will have to do a bit of travelling which wouldn't be ideal for them at any time."

Kerr believes that a run in the qualifiers is not beyond them. He added: "You don't want just one match to define your season. We were disappointed, especially with our first half against Fermanagh. By the time we decided to play, the damage was done. We are aware of that ourselves.

"We have always been traditionally decent in the qualifiers, so, why not?"

Belfast Telegraph


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