GAA Football

Sweeping changes in Antrim and tears for Against The Breeze

Former Antrim and St John's hurler Collie Donnelly is the new county board chairman
Off the Fence with Brendan Crossan

WHILE the grieving process among readers continues for the demise of Paddy Heaney’s Against The Breeze column, it’s not all gloom and doom in Off The Fence this week. For there are green shoots of recovery in Antrim.

At Monday night’s county convention, ‘Saffron Vision’ claimed six of the eight posts up for grabs. This velvet revolution was welcomed by our contributors this week.

BEFORE we start shedding more tears for Against The Breeze (for a second week running!!), we’ll kick off with a letter from ‘Ex-Antrim supporter returning to the fold’.

“I am pleased to see that at last some Antrim folk have taken the initiative to successfully challenge the status quo at county board level,” ‘Ex-Antrim supporter’ writes.

“I wish them all well in their endeavours to bring Antrim GAA out of the quagmire that has existed for some time and trust they have the vision and wisdom to bring success to our beleaguered county.

“The apathy that has existed in Antrim GAA is not all the county board's fault as there are many underlining issues within the county.

“The new executive I am sure are well aware of these and the anticipation is that they have the desire and support to tackle these.”

‘Ex-Antrim supporter continues: “I have always contended that the buck stopped with the county board, as in any other discipline, the men at the top must bear the responsibility for failure (just as they are willing to accept the plaudits for success).

“The out-going people are all dedicated GAA men who I am sure will continue to support their clubs and county in whatever capacity.

“They do not deserve ridicule (although it is part and parcel of the Antrim psyche). I think we have an excellent hurling manager in PJ O'Mullan and with Justin McCarthy as his deputy we have a very strong management team.

“I wish them well and look forward to the new hurling season with enthusiasm. I sincerely hope that this week heralds a bright new beginning for Antrim GAA and urge clubs and supporters to back them.”

BC: While the changes have been met with plenty of fanfare, the hard work starts now for Antrim’s new county executive. There are major challenges ahead, as new chairman Collie Donnelly discusses in today’s sports pages.

ON Facebook, Antrim Gaels supported the changes at county board level and were hopeful about the future.

‘Sean Harkin’ said: “They could tackle the problems in Antrim's underachieving over the years.”

‘Damian McKane’ writes: “Good luck to Antrim new and old! Sometimes it is easy to sit in opposition. Time will tell the story of the "Saffron dawn."

Stephen Harbinson’ posted: “Maybe change will be good for the county all round.”

Peter McKeever’ says: “The county can start making progress under this new regime! Good luck to all the post holders!”

DUE to reader demand, we revisit Against The Breeze, Paddy Heaney’s popular Tuesday column that ended last week.

‘Avid Against the Breeze Reader’ emailed this touching ode: “I have zero interest in fishing and know nothing of the local characters around Maghera. I hope it goes some way then to capturing something of the essence of Paddy Heaney's gift, when I explain how I squinted my way through the small 'screen-shot' of Paddy's article, that appeared in last week's Off The Fence.

“The article about his recently deceased fishing mentor was published several months back. I recall reading the article at least twice at the time.

“That was the case with many of Heaney's 'gems' over the years. As a GAA man, the column was a 'must read', but it was the mark of the master craftsman that articles unrelated to Gaelic Games held the same entertainment value.

“Before a tap was done on a Tuesday morning, the back page had to be flipped over for the weekly 'fix'. Paddy always struck a chord. A piece on my all-time favourite, Maurice Fitzgerald, in which Fitzgerald's play was described as somehow 'spiritual', lingers in the memory.

“There were some about cycling, another passion of mine and too many others to mention.

“Over the years in this paper I noticed that a few players in their 'player profile' had included Paddy on a list of 'celebrities' they would invite to a party.

“I never met the man, but think I would concur. In quieter moments, such as a rain-swept Saturday like today, I sometimes picture myself in a cosy pub, somewhere like West Kerry, talking football over a few creamy pints of stout with Paddy Heaney and the local aficionados, maybe even some of the O'Se clan. The craic's great, same as it ever was with Paddy Heaney. Teacht ar ais go luath Paddy.”

BC: For those of you who don’t know, Paddy said goodbye to journalism and column writing last week to concentrate on running his new gym in his native Maghera. The gym is called Train Station. After working alongside him for 15 years, I’ll tell you what I’ll miss about Paddy.

I’ll miss those interminably long car journeys to games with him in his 1975 Toyota Corolla and Paddy waffling on about how many miles he did on his super-duper bike that morning.

Or the time he was big into Triathlons, or his foray into football management a few years back. No matter how many times I yawned didn't faze Paddy one iota. He'd plough on regardless. I'll miss how most of his yarns reflected pretty well on him.

I'll miss him throwing the gauntlet down to me to have a 100m sprint race out the back of the Irish News, knowing full well he was finishing second every time. Granted, his long, loping stride would probably get me around the 150m mark.

I'll miss my colleague Andy Watters beating him in two press-up challenges on his evening shift. I'll miss the odd jostle he had with stewards and even the odd manager. All good times. Most of the time, though, Paddy was good company and always a brilliant writer.

THE outpouring of grief continued with 'Kevin' urging Paddy to simply "Come back!".

"Like the rest of football fans, I will miss Paddy Heaney’s columns for their original and enjoyable insights into the GAA scene. I wish him every success…. How about a monthly report from the gym face?"

BC: Sorry Kevin, I had to edit the bit where you started quoting a Mary Black song.

AND to finish, ‘John’ has started following the Belfast Giants. And even though he’s not sure of all the rules he thinks the standard of refereeing is atrocious.

“Being the close season and being a big hurling fan I decided to take a few runs over to the Odyssey to watch the Belfast Giants,” says ‘Kevin’.

“I happened to be at the match on Friday night and I thought the refereeing was absolutely atrocious. It’s the second time I’ve been there and the refereeing was poor the first time… I don’t know the rules but the Belfast Giants appeared to commit the same fouls as the other team but the other team wasn’t penalised.”

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