James McIlroy comes from a family steeped in football but the Larne man is aiming to bring big-time athletics back to Northern Ireland with a bang thanks to the sport's first major post-lockdown event.
McIlroy - an Olympic athlete formerly on the books of Larne FC and grandson of Belfast Celtic legend Syd McIlroy - is a driving force behind next month's new Antrim Coast Half Marathon and is confident the high-class race will not only go ahead despite the current Covid restrictions but also smash several long-standing records in the process.
McIlroy is in charge of the elite side of the event which will see big names like Jo Pavey - aiming for a record-equalling sixth Olympics next year - battle it out on September 12 on a new course designed for speed, while race director Billy Thompson has merged the best aspects of the highly successful Larne Half Marathon into the new race, which was postponed in March due to the lockdown.
Pavey, still at the summit of the sport at the age of 46, will be joined on the start line by fellow Great Britain stars Gemma Steel, Lily Partridge, Sam Harrison and ultra distance world champion and record holder Aly Dixon, plus South African ultra distance ace Gerda Steyn and Strabane-based Olympic hopeful Ann-Marie McGlynn.
Top locals Stephen Scullion and Kevin Seaward - both Olympics-bound - will take on leading raiders Ben Connor, Scott Overall, Nick McCormick and Mark Scott, who has been on fire of late, recently setting a new British 5k record of 13.20.
The current Irish half marathon men's record stands at 62.29, set by Jerry Kiernan back in 1982, while Maria McCambridge set the women's mark of 72.26 in 2014.
"It's all systems go despite the current situation," said former Great Britain international McIlroy, who reached the 800m semi-finals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a highlight in a glittering athletics career that took him away in his mid-teens from Larne FC and his first-love football.
McIlroy, a season ticket holder at Inver Park, also had a spell as the club's strength and conditioning coach a decade ago when such roles were still relatively new.
"The players responded really well and I only gave it up because I was moving back to England. I suppose if you had to liken football to athletics it's a bit like training for the 400m, shorter and sharper than the long distance stuff," he said.
"I've really enjoyed going to the matches. I was really disappointed when the league was halted due to the virus because, although I think Linfield were out of sight in terms of the title, I really felt Larne could have nicked second spot and with it European football.
"So it was frustrating but you have to feel that, with (owner) Kenny Bruce's financial backing, exciting times lie ahead. You only have to look at the facilities now to know Larne are going places.
"Obviously other top teams will react financially and in the way they play. Larne under Tiernan Lynch like to play football - they played a lot of teams off the park last season.
"We had a tie-in with Larne FC for our original date last March when all finishers in the race would have got into the match free later that day and also receive a free drink in the social club. Of course the Irish League will not be up and running until October so that arrangement has had to be put on hold. We are lucky to have a lot of very generous sponsors for the race and thankfully the event is financially sustainable.
"Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, P&O Ferries, the Port of Larne, Cairndhu Golf Club and the Curran Court Hotel have all been very good to us. The race, which will be streamed live to limit spectator numbers, will be started by a blast on the horn of a passing P&O ferry.
"In terms of participation we could easily have tripled the numbers - there will be under 3,000 runners - but safety is the No.1 priority and we are adhering strictly to social distancing guidelines with runners starting in different waves depending on their expected times. The entry has to be kept relatively low due to the current situation.
"In terms of the elite runners, this will be the best ever half marathon field assembled in Ireland - and one of the best in Europe - and we are hoping to see records tumble. This should be the fastest half marathon ever run in Ireland. We have about 20 Olympians in the field. It's an exciting prospect, especially with the Tokyo Olympics now hopefully less than a year away.
"The Larne Half Marathon had a hill around the halfway point but the new route omits this so we are expecting very fast times on what is an excellent course. We are very happy with it. It is an attractive course for elite athletes and that is reflected in the interest there has been.
"The Larne Half Marathon had been a big success over a number of years but we had been talking for a while about making changes and this year we have gone for it.
"It's out and back from Larne on the scenic Antrim Coast Road, finishing at the iconic Chaine Memorial Tower," added the Larne AC runner, who is ruled out of the race due to a knee injury.
"I'd love to be competing. The half marathon is a bit on the long side for me but it will be a brilliant occasion."
McIlroy's own athletics career had many highs, the stand-out being that 800m semi-final in Sydney two decades ago.
The 43-year-old said: "Being at the Olympics is a bit like going to Disneyland, just unbelievable. I think the fact it is once every four years sets it apart and makes it so exclusive. Even the Worlds are every two years. But once you're down in the warm-up area getting ready to run it becomes like any other race because most of the other athletes are familiar opponents and you then just go through your usual routine."
He added: "It was also very satisfying to be involved in quite a few races over the years where world records were set.
"I was involved in the sport for a long time and have trained with most of Britain's top athletes over the years, including Mo Farah who I often roomed with on away trips. I'd probably have to call him Sir Mo now!" he joked.
"Seb Coe would have been a hero of mine when I was growing up. When I was breaking through, his dad Peter was very good to me and would have phoned my coach Sean Kyle to offer advice. I was also coached by my dad John throughout my career as well as by Alan Storey and Tony Lester."
McIlroy, behind only the now Lord Coe and Steve Cram on Britain's all-time 1,000m list, added: "I feel athletics is in a good place at the moment. Drugs obviously is still an issue but I feel the sport is winning that particular battle. It has to win it as drugs hurt athletics from a commercial standpoint because if people don't believe what they are seeing it damages the sport.
"But athletics is definitely going in the right direction. London 2012 gave the sport a boost thanks to all the medal success of British athletes."
And James McIlroy is sure a record-breaking Antrim Coast Half Marathon will provide the perfect boost for athletics in these difficult times.
Then it's back to football and his dreams of Inver Park glory.