GAA Football

Antrim need to make lifestyle change to fulfil potential at inter-county level: co-boss Frank Fitzsimons

Antrim's co-manager Frank Fitzsimons says the younger members of the squad now know what it takes to be a county player after losing to Sligo

JOINT manager Frank Fitzsimons believes the Antrim senior football squad need to buy into a lifestyle change in order to reach their potential as county players.

Fitzsimons also confirmed he would be interested in staying on with co-boss Gearoid Adams next season but said that decision was up to the county board.

Antrim exited the All-Ireland Qualifiers to Sligo last weekend and while Fitzsimons and Adams have been encouraged by the new influx of young players this year, more improvement is required to be a success at inter-county level.

The Lamh Dhearg clubman also said it was critical the older members of the panel remain in place for 2018 as they ponder life in Division Four.

“At the start of next year they have to work hard and don’t worry about anything else,” Fitzsimons said.

“If they want to live this lifestyle of a county player – and it is a lifestyle change – when their mates are going out for a few pints they might have to decide not to do that.

“If you want to be at that level, that’s what you have to do.”

With the home side leading by a point at the break, Sligo ran riot in the second half, rattling off 12 unanswered points between the 53rd and 72nd minutes.

Antrim were reduced to 14 men when Jack Dowling saw red, while losing sweeper Mark Sweeney to a black card was a body blow to the Ulstermen’s prospects of progressing in the All-Ireland series.

Several players in saffron were running on empty in the second period.

“There are players that could be in better shape,” Fitzsimons acknowledged.

“But we’ve a decent group of players coming through at minor level and hopefully some of the older lads will stay – the likes of Mark Sweeney – and push the younger lads on and let them know what it’s like and what they need to do.”

Fitzsimons added: “I can stand here and blame the sending-off but we still had ample chances. We were poor for a few minutes in the second half.

“Fitzy’s [Matthew Fitzpatrick] goal lifted us a bit but then Sweeney’s black card disrupted us and Sligo were very, very clinical in the second half.

“To be honest, I don’t think we turned up in the first half either.

“We looked sluggish and heavy-legged and that comes from nerves and putting pressure on yourself.

“We told them to go out and play with freedom… but even at the end we were cutting Sligo open for goal chances in the second half...

“Look, they’re a young side and I said to them about staying together. They’ve got a bit of experience now. They know what it takes to be a county footballer.”

Fitzsimons has completed three years at the helm and Adams two.

The pair put their trust in youth in 2017 with Peter Healy, Conor Hamill, Ruairi McCann, Stephen Beatty, Paddy McAleer, Conor Small and Seamus McGarry making a strong impression.

They suffered relegation from Division Three in heartbreaking circumstances when Longford grabbed a late equaliser at Corrigan Park back in April.

On his managerial future, Fitzsimons said: “I would like to stay on but if the powers-that-be think there is someone that could come in and bring those players on, by all means, Gearoid and me would step aside.

“There is a good bunch of lads there. But it’s a lifestyle change and a lot of them, to be fair, have done it. You can see the difference in them.”

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