Brian Neeson says he can juggle Antrim & Carrick commitments
BRIAN ‘BAM’ NEESON believes he will be able to juggle his soccer and Gaelic football commitments and hopes he can guide Carrick Rangers to Danske Bank Premiership safety and assist Antrim’s NFL promotion hopes in 2016.
The highly-rated St John’s forward has been keeping goal for Irish League strugglers Carrick Rangers and is earning rave reviews. But after a year away from the Antrim set-up, Bam returned to county colours last Sunday, hitting five converted frees in Antrim’s opening Dr McKenna Cup loss to Derry.
A prolific corner-forward, the left-footed Neeson hit the headlines in 2014 when he notched a game-winning 1-6 in Antrim’s narrow Ulster Championship win over Fermanagh before they exited to Donegal in the semi-finals. He’s played very little Gaelic football since that defeat to Donegal - but after a chat with St John’s club-mate and Antrim’s new joint-manager Gearóid Adams, Bam was happy to hook up with the Saffrons again.
“It was a straightforward decision,” Neeson said.
“I wanted to go back because I missed playing. I was chatting to Gearóid [Adams] and he said to me to get down to training for a proper chat with him and Frank [Fitzsimons]. So I went to the training and I really enjoyed it. I had a chat with them and that was that.”
This time last year, Neeson was trying to get a personal training business off the ground and didn’t think it was possible at that stage to play for both Carrick and Antrim. Neeson, however, doesn’t envisage any problems playing soccer on a Saturday and Gaelic football on a Sunday. The fact he’s keeping goal for Carrick made the decision to return to Antrim easier.
“It helps that I’m doing nets for Carrick Rangers,” Neeson acknowledged.
“It’s not physically demanding; more mentally tough. I just have to juggle it a wee bit. I have to make sure if I’m going to Antrim training, Carrick knows - and if I’m going to Carrick training, Antrim knows. It’s making sure that everyone knows what’s happening. It’s keeping on top of stuff like that so that there are no crossed wires.”
He added: “I missed playing Gaelic football last year because I found it very tough with work and playing soccer, trying to balance it.
“I think I can manage it better now. I want to give it a go. I want to help Antrim get out of Division Four and do a bit better. Antrim will do better when they’re playing against better teams and that’s no disrespect to the teams in Division Four.
“The higher up you are, the more the kids will want to play Gaelic football. It’s about Antrim. Hopefully I can get back in and show that it just wasn’t one or two years that I played for the county. I was following the team last year and I just want to contribute something and to get Antrim out of Division Four because it’s no place to be.”
Antrim resume their McKenna Cup campaign against Queen’s at the Dub on Wednesday night before facing Tyrone next Sunday. Despite last Sunday’s chastening defeat to Derry, Neeson is enjoying being back with the county team.
“We’re down in Brian Magee’s gym and it’s a really good set-up. It’s pretty much a brand new building and brand new equipment. It’s been really good, really enjoyable," he said.
“It’s different. You’re not just doing your squats and dead-lifting, you’re actually moving, which is good, and I think it’s brought a spark to the team because you’re not doing the same old stuff. The training is tough, but a few weeks and you’ll be alright.”
Neeson has been a key member of the Carrick Rangers side who won promotion back to senior football this season, but they're facing a battle to retain their hard-earned Premiership status.
“I’m enjoying playing the soccer,” he said, which forms part of his income.
“We’re down near the bottom of the table, but hopefully we can pick a few points up in the new year. It’s a tough league. Last year, if we made a mistake [in intermediate football], we’d get away with it. But this year, you make a mistake and the ball ends in the back of your net. There is a big gap between the top four or five teams and the bottom teams.
“Every game we’re in, the last 10 minutes we’ve made silly mistakes. Hopefully we’ll get a few new players in in January and beat the teams around us because I think we can get out of it.”