Rossa man Stephen Beatty relishing Antrim football chance
YOU see Stephen Beatty in the far corner of the O’Donnell’s GAC pitch and you wonder how he got here.
Recognised as one of the most talented hurlers in the county, the O’Donovan Rossa clubman is with the senior footballers.
Consider the trajectory of Antrim’s hurlers and footballers in 2017: the hurlers won promotion back to Division 1B and are 70 minutes away from playing in their second consecutive Christy Ring final at Croke Park.
The footballers, meanwhile, suffered relegation to Division Four and face the daunting prospect of trying to topple Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster Championship opener.
But Beatty wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. For him, the rugged terrain is part of the challenge.
Playing for the county footballers has been a burning ambition.
Speaking at Monday night’s Ulster Championship press night at the west Belfast venue, the 24-year-old says: “This is the first time I’ve been with the county footballers. I was with the hurlers for three or four years but then I got the opportunity with the footballers.
“I always said if I ever got the opportunity to play football I would.”
His decision to declare for the footballers had some Rossa members scratching their heads.
“A few people would wind me up at the club and say: ‘Why are you playing for the county footballers?’
“But Paul Close [Rossa joint-manager] phoned me and said: ‘Fair play to you, take your opportunity’.
“They’re just so supportive.”
“I really enjoyed the hurling. But I prefer the football. Don’t get me wrong, hurling was my number one sport when I was at school. But in a hurling game the ball can bypass you a lot, whereas you can get more involved in the play in football.
“I actually got phoned by the hurlers [to join them] and then I got a call from the football. At the start I thought it was my mates winding me up.
“But I knew Russ’s voice [Frank Fitzsimons]. So I went along and I thought I would be part of the training squad.
“I set myself a target of getting on the 26 [matchday squad] and thankfully I just worked my way into the team. Hopefully I’ll be there or thereabouts on Sunday.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I enjoy the football set-up a lot more.”
In hurling terms, Beatty would be regarded as a ball-winning half-forward with an eye for a score.
He grabbed the only goal of the 2015 All-Ireland intermediate club final at Croke Park to see off Kilburn Gaels.
In football terms, he knows his limitations. He will not hit 1-3 from play. He will not solo past a couple of players. Nonchalance is not his game.
What he will do is win you dirty ball. He will win you turnovers. He will chase and harry opponents and play the simple pass.
His contribution has been so good this season that he’s become an indispensable member of Fitzsimons’ and Gearoid Adams’ team.
“I was sub for the first McKenna Cup game [against St Mary’s] and I came on after 15 minutes and scored a point and won a couple of ‘marks’,” he says.
“So ever since that the management have given me the opportunity and I’ve just been working hard. I’ve let them know if they give me a job I’ll do it and I’ll put myself about. If they want me to chase back, I’ll chase back. I don’t mind that role.”
With a touch of modesty, the Queen’s Software Development Masters student adds: “I used to play corner-forward when I was 18. Maybe my shooting went down hill and I moved back a wee bit.
“I’m midfield at the minute. I like half-forward too. I like a running job and getting involved.
“I don’t have the best feet in the world, but I’ll try and win you the ball and give it to the boys who can score. One thing I never do is become complacent.”
While everyone outside of the camp fear for Antrim in Ballybofey on Sunday, Beatty shrugs his shoulders.
“I love being an underdog in everything,” he says.
“With Rossa, we are always underdogs. This is 15 on 15. What can happen? I know they’re Division One. We believe the system that we’re going to play is going to work.
“If everyone puts his shoulder to the wheel we’ll not be far away.”