Liverpool-based Matthew Fitzpatrick keen to fly home for Antrim games next season
THE Antrim footballers have received a major boost after key forward Matthew Fitzpatrick revealed he won’t be putting his inter-county career on hold.
The St John’s forward had resigned himself to taking a year out of county football due to his studies.
The 24-year-old has moved to Liverpool to complete a teaching qualification – but after talks with Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson, the player will remain a key member of the senior panel in 2019.
Fitzpatrick will fly back from Edge Hill University in Liverpool every week and will also be part of the St John’s squad that hopes to push for championship honours this year after suffering final heartache to Lamh Dhearg last season.
“I was speaking to Lenny last night [Wednesday] and he’s keen for me to play for Antrim next season,” confirmed Fitzpatrick, who is sharing digs in Liverpool with former Down forward Barry O’Hagan.
“I didn’t know if it was possible but Lenny’s 100 per cent and really supportive. I’ll train away over here with a team called John Mitchel’s.”
Fitzpatrick faces a testing year to juggle his academic and football commitments but he has spoken to friends who have been in a similar position as him and they managed the workload.
His Sigerson Cup winning team-mate and good friend Kieran McGeary was studying in England last season but was still able to continue playing for Tyrone.
“My mate Kieran McGeary, who I played with at St Mary’s, was studying in Lancaster last year and he went home and played for Tyrone. So I was talking to him and he was saying as long as you keep on top of your work it’s possible to do both.
“I’m trying to be as organised as possible, keep on top of my work and hopefully things will work out and I’ll be able to play for St John’s and Antrim.
“And I saw the National League fixtures list recently and we play Derry at home in our first match, so I’d like to part of that.
“It’ll be a heavy duty this year. But it’s one year and I qualify as a teacher in June. I’ll be coming home every weekend to play for St John’s and hope we can put a run together in the Championship.”
One advantage of being in Liverpool, Fitzpatrick quipped, was not having to listen to his club and county team-mate Patrick McBride.
“If I didn’t come home I’d have the likes of Paddy McBride yapping at me, and he’s hard to stick at the best of times! The best thing about being in Liverpool is getting away from him!”
Antrim had a disappointing 2018 season, missing out on promotion out of Division Four and crashed out of the Championship after just two games.
The Saffrons were well beaten by Down in the Ulster Championship before Offaly knocked them out of the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
“The different levels in Gaelic football are frightening,” said Fitzpatrick.
“Down beat us and then Donegal beat Down handy enough and Tyrone beat Donegal.
But we are where we are. To be fair to Lenny and his backroom team they did everything for us; they couldn’t have done any more.
“And when you look at the stats we’re in better shape, but the players just didn’t deliver.
“People look at our Championship and they automatically think it was a disastrous year but I know we’ve improved.”
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick remains confident he will one day play some of his inter-county career at a rebuilt Casement Park. Earlier this week, the Casement Park Project Board re-iterated its intention to see the west Belfast venue rebuilt.
“I think it will get built,” said the St John’s man.
“If it doesn’t, it’ll be a Tesco supermarket... I’m heartbroken the fact that we should be playing in it now but I’m still confident it will happen.”
Antrim will probably play their home games at Corrigan Park again next season with the GAA receptive to the county board’s request of building a covered stand at the Whiterock Road ground.