Coleraine will be my sole focus: ex-Antrim ace Matthew Fitzpatrick
MATTHEW Fitzpatrick has closed the door on a possible return to the Antrim senior footballers as he plans to give his Irish League career with Coleraine his full focus.
The St John’s clubman called a halt to his inter-county career after signing an 18-month contract with the Bannsiders that starts on January 1.
Fitzpatrick was on the radar of a host of Irish League clubs including Coleraine, Glenavon and Portadown following a short but hugely impressive stint with local intermediate side Belfast Celtic.
Speaking to The Irish News last night, the 25-year-old said he had every intention of playing for Antrim in 2020 – but once Coleraine came knocking it was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
“I enjoyed playing for Belfast Celtic for the last couple of months and ‘Mackers’ [Belfast Celtic manager Stephen McAlorum] was so accommodating. My intentions were to go back and play for Antrim, but I played a couple of games for Belfast Celtic and did well, and the interest came in.
“I met with Oran Kearney [Coleraine manager] and I started to think about it. I felt I would regret it if I didn’t try it because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“I’ve played for Antrim for seven years now. I’ve had a county career, I’ve enjoyed it but at 25 I’ve a chance, if this goes well, to have a few years at it. So I just had to give it a go.”
In his younger days, the west Belfast native was on Glentoran’s books before committing to Antrim where he emerged as one of the most exciting forwards in Ulster.
His five-star performances in Antrim’s Championship campaign earlier this year earned him rave reviews and an Ulster Allstar nomination.
Antrim will be hoping to fight their way out of Division Four before turning their attention to the Championship, at which time Coleraine’s season will be over.
But Fitzpatrick doesn’t envisage returning to the Antrim set-up.
“I said to Oran that I’m doing this and I want to do this right and I won’t entertain playing for Antrim because I want to give this everything I have,” he said.
“I would have more regrets if I did this half-heartedly.”
Despite studying in Liverpool last season, Fitzpatrick remained committed to Antrim’s cause and flew home every weekend to make himself available for the National Football League campaign.
“I’ll miss my mates at Antrim – the likes of Paddy McBride, Decky Lynch, Kevy Quinn and all those boys,” ‘Fitzy’ added. "The relationships are the main thing I’ll miss.”
Fitzpatrick, who can play midfield or as a striker, also revealed Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson didn’t stand in his way of switching codes.
“Lenny didn’t put me under any pressure. Obviously he didn’t want me to go but he said: ‘If that’s what you want to do, I respect that...’
“He was 100 per cent about it and I really appreciated that.”
On the challenge that awaits him at Coleraine, he said: "I’ll get the head down and work hard. Oran mentioned about the versatility in my game, so hopefully that can work in my favour.
“But that’s what you want, you want a challenge. I wouldn’t be putting a halt to my county career just to make up the numbers. I just want to give it everything I have.”