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O'Mullan is hoping a fierce club rivalry can spur Antrim

By Declan Bogue

Newly-crowned Antrim hurling manager PJ O'Mullan intends to embrace the inter-club rivalry in the county which exasperated his predecessor, Kevin Ryan.

On Wednesday night, O'Mullan's name was proposed by Antrim county board Chairman Jim Murray and, according to eye-witness reports, all of the 80-odd club delegates present raised their hands to second the motion.

Such unanimous support for a candidate has been rare in Antrim hurling circles, but 2012 club All-Ireland-winning Loughgiel Shamrocks manager O'Mullan told the Belfast Telegraph that he will harness the sometimes combustible environment of Antrim club hurling.

"Rivalry… It's wonderful. It's needed. It's healthy," the 41-year-old explained.

"Whenever they are playing their club games against each other, I would expect them to be knocking ten bells out of each other. But whenever they come in through the gates to play for the county, and they all pull on the Antrim jersey, I expect them to put their shoulder to the wheel the same way they would with their clubs."

Another complaint made by Ryan was the sheer apathy of players towards the county scene, something that O'Mullan intends to address by directly engaging the clubs.

"There is an apathy, but I don't think it's as bad as people think," he reasoned.

"These players were nurtured, coached and started their careers in their clubs. I need to get back to the clubs, I want them to come on board and if they can give me advice, I am going to take it.

"We are going to try and take our training around the clubs at the weekend to let the players be seen at their own club. We are going to try and take in every club, all 42 clubs in Antrim, at the weekends, with training.

"We are going to try and bond it, and mend it. It's a clean slate, a fresh start."

O'Mullan has assembled a strong backroom as he begins his work as Saffrons manager. Justin McCarthy is back as a coach over 40 years since he spent some downtime recovering from a broken leg when a Cork player by coaching Antrim to an All-Ireland intermediate title.

Paul Talty of the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland has come in as strength and conditioning coach. Rossa clubman Gavan Duffy, who led Queen's to an All-Ireland title, is also on board, as is Cushendun's Paul Graham, who has experience playing for and coaching Kilmacud Crokes in Dublin.

Noel Darragh and Dominic Casey will manage logistics while O'Mullan also hopes to bring in one more coach.

While he would not get into specifics of a possible return for Liam Watson, he was keen to emphasise that Antrim have players to help the county make strides.

"The talent here in Antrim is as good as in any other county. I am not saying that flippantly. I am serious," the civil servant stressed.

"We win (club) All-Irelands at Senior level, Intermediate, Junior and Schools level. Other than Kilkenny, no other county in Ireland has got that record.

"The enthusiasm that I and the backroom team have for it, I am going to get that across to the clubs and the players."

For O'Mullan, the job starts this weekend, and he hopes to host a number of trial matches next week, with a view to carrying a panel of 35, with the Creggan and Cushendall players currently chasing a place in their All-Ireland finals, to be re-integrated later.

O'Mullan added: "This is all down to the players. All down to them.

"I want them to play at the highest level, I want Antrim playing at the highest level. I believe they are capable.

"The only thing is that Rome wasn't built in a day. And if you are going to build a house, you have to start at the foundation level.

"So it's block by block, bit by bit. There will be setbacks along the road, but I can guarantee that the talent is there and if the players can commit, they will be playing at the highest level."

Belfast Telegraph


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